Thursday, April 19, 2007

Offering the Helping Hand that May Get Bitten...

This is a post I've been working on since mid-December -- so long ago in the gestation of blog posts that this one really should be put to eternal rest (perhaps in a cardboard box under a tree?) by now.

Around Christmas time (ah, the triteness of it all -- isn't that when all feel-good stories occur?), I rushed hurriedly from my 7th-storey window-facing office in a metropolitan area to the hoity-toity urban mall five blocks away. My objective in the scant 30 minutes I afforded myself was to rush to Ann Taylor, purchase two purses on sale (one for me and one for my sister), grab some lunch to go, and get back to my desk in time for a meeting.

My speedy trek was interrupted by a scruffy man, dressed in a trench coat (no, this is not that kind of story and his trench coat was closed), with ragged hair, a face gritty and unshaven, and displaying overall dishabille. He reached out his arms to anyone who walked by and asked for change of any sort so he could get a meal. Everyone, from the most questionably dressed collegian to the lawyers wearing the AX suits, stared around him. That's stronger than staring "through," by the way. To stare through something sort of acknowledges that something is there to stare through (in much the same way that being an atheist still acknowledges at some level that there is a god). So, they simply stared around him as though this dirty gent were a horizon bend, of sorts.

I'm not generally a "stare through" kind of person. I either openly ignore or boldly acknowledge. I chose to boldly acknowledge and smile.

"Can you spare some change?" he asked.

"Yes, I can spare some but I have none on me," I replied with the truth. He accepted it as something he's heard before but then said, "Do you got anything? I'm just hungry."

I hesitated and then asked, "I don't have cash and I'm in a rush, but I'm going in the food court. Can I buy you a meal while I'm there. What do you want?"

"You'd do that for me?" he said, appearing stunned.

"Sure, it's no problem."

"A burger. Some fries. Mmm, and salad. You gotta have salad because it's healthy and keeps you from getting run down. Hey, can I get a Coke, too?"

"No problem. Wait here and I'll be back in about 15 minutes."

So, I rush, rush, rush around, my heels clicking on the concrete and my calves aching because I was trying to force them into becoming battle chargers. Stopped at the little Thai place, ordered my lunch. Stopped at McDonald's, ordered his lunch. Stopped at Ann Taylor, bought purses (the primary objective, after all!). Admired mannequin at Victoria's Secret (I'm not saying I'd wear that underwear but it'd be nice if I could and look good in it!). Walked to the little Thai place, picked up my lunch. Walked to McDonald's, picked up his lunch plus added a few apple pies to it. After all, salad is healthy, and burger and fries are filling, but dessert should be a true treat. Rushed upstairs laden with hot, goopy, loosely contained food and purses that, if they stained, would likely earn my sister's ire.

Looked around the cold and breezy pedestrian mall for my hungry stranger.

He was gone.

I walked north...then south. I walked east...then west. I went inside...and walked back out again.

He was gone.

I felt betrayed. I felt foolish. I was disappointed, an experience only slightly mollified by my "responsible" side reminding me to get over this quickly and get back to my desk for a meeting.

In the meanwhile, I was schlepping around a bag full with two quarter-pounders, two large containers of fries, four apple pies, two salads, and a super-sized Coke. What to do?

Somberly, I walked toward the office with the weighty bag full of food with still the immediate problem of what to do with it. Walking opposite me were two gentlemen, also scruffy but in an indeterminable way where there was room left for doubt whether they were impoverished, manual workers on break, or just people with a poor sense of personal hygiene. I was afraid to ask for fear of giving offense. But, the practicality of the situation again presented itself. I'm not going to eat this food and someone else should benefit.

"Excuse me?"


"I have all this food here that I bought for someone in need who asked for it. He disappeared and I can't find him. Would you take it? It is untouched and still hot, purchased only about five minutes ago."

"Are you serious?" asked one. "Is this for real?" queried the other.

I feared they took umbrage with my offer and thought how degrading this situation was, that the yuppie bearing food was insulting them.

Instead, they both got down on their knees and they prayed.

They blessed me, they thanked God for sending me with the food. Their prayer was brief and was followed by them going to the public water fountain to wash their hands and then eating.

How to close this blog post in a way that feels appropriate and isn't banal and overly moralistic? I don't know that I can.

So, for now, until I think of something better, I'll just say that I walked back to the office, ate my Thai food, made my meeting on time, and gave my sister her purse.

(I realized that I'm not really a big purse person so I gave mine away. Besides, what if Tiffany and I showed up at the same place with the same purse? Such a faux pas!)


Anonymous said...

Wow, what a touching story. I don't believe in coincidences and look at this an example of Divine intervention. You should feel blessed for having been used by God in such a wonderful manner. Perhaps the two gentlemen would not have stirred you to the same degree the one disheveled man did. They had a need but you would not have known it or perhaps responded to it had you not been carrying such abundance in your hand already. And BTW, I don't know your beliefs but one doesn't have to believe in God to be His instrument. Whatever happened to the original man, we'll never know - perhaps he was God's instrument too.

Rebecca said...

Hey, it's a "Godincidence!"

Ellen U. said...

I love stories such as this. I love knowing that there are moments, typically utterly unexpected and quite often actually inconvenient, when lives touch each other and reverberate across a long, long distance. Without being banal or moralistic either, may I say: I bless you, too, for being a willing party to such tenderness.