We all have something to give
It was a tight space, but that’s often the deal with parallel parking. There were three bicycles in the bed of my truck, and the blanket I had the front wheels slung over blacked out the backup camera that had always seemed a huge extravagance.
It was dusk, and I was turned around peering over the seat to look at the car behind me as I maneuvered. Suddenly a man, probably in his early 50s, was in my line of sight. He held his arms wide with both hands crooked at a slight angle from his wrist, that unmistakable sign one uses to let a driver who’s parking know how far they are from bumping into the car behind them. As I inched back, he moved his hands closer, his eyes downcast at the two cars, and his help allowed me to make a perfect one-point move into the spot.
He was already speaking as I got out of the truck.
“Man, I like your truck, and this is a pretty nice car behind you, I didn’t want you to hit it and have any problems,” he said, smiling and nodding his head.
“I really appreciate the help, thanks so much,” I replied, and as I came around from the driver’s side of my truck to the sidewalk, I saw his weathered backpack against the building. He had been sitting on the low stone planter that protruded from the front wall, and as he returned to his seat, I saw that he also had some kind of canvas bag pushed up against the other side of his legs, likely everything he owned stuffed into what amounted to two laundry bags.
I had just returned from a meeting in Asheville and was joining my wife for beer. At that Asheville meeting, as it turns out, there had been a discussion about the homeless and how they tended to congregate in certain places and cause problems for many merchants. No one at that meeting had judged or criticized our homeless residents, just noted that they can cause issues that have to be dealt with.
As I turned my back to the guy who’d helped me and headed down the sidewalk toward the cozy confines of the bar, a sudden urge overtook me. Perhaps that conversation from earlier that day was on my mind, perhaps it was the influence of the full moon expected that night.
“That was really helpful,” I turned around and told him. And then, not really knowing what else to say, I simply asked him, “How are you doing, brother?”
He looked me straight in the eye, shrugged his shoulders, nodded again, said, “I’m fine, I’m good.”
I reached into my wallet and pulled out the only cash I had, a $10 bill, held it out.
He reached his arm out slowly, gingerly accepted the offering, then eyed it closely as he wrapped his fist around the money.
“Thanks man, God bless you,” he said, his eyes still fixed to mine.
“Have a good one,” I said and turned to walk away.
Look, I’m almost ashamed to say I pass people at busy intersections holding signs and almost never give them any money or food. I seldom give to sidewalk panhandlers. I’m typically a “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of guy, for better or worse.
But this time I had stopped and turned around to face him, and his expression exuded warmth and friendliness. This isn’t about me giving some homeless guy a few dollars, but that exchange remains in my mind. Maybe because it’s the holiday season, perhaps because a lot of us are a little worried as politics and viruses and the economy have us all unsure of what the next few months hold.
A simple act of kindness. There was a time when I was spiraling both emotionally and psychologically, and the kindness of family and friends was the balm I needed. Words, visits, calls, letters, cards — they all helped me get back to a good place. I have to remind myself to never forget that time. We all have something to give, be it time, a friendly helping hand, emotional support, food, a visit, a few coins, clothes, a check written to a charity. In my time on this earth, I’ve found that most people are good, whether they’re living on the streets of Waynesville or a huge house in Highlands.
He was still there when I left the pub and returned to my truck, a lit cigarette protruding from his fingers. If that’s what the money bought, so be it. He smiled, waved, and gave me a sincere, “Thanks again man, God bless you” as I stepped into my truck.
That blessing carried meaning, and I won’t soon forget it. Happy holidays.
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"For it is in giving that we receive" -- St. Francis of Assisi