He sat against a street corner light post, his feet tucked under him as he held a neatly lettered sign asking for help. I reached for my wallet but I knew that a few bucks in his tin can would only be a stopgap. I stopped, anyway. “Hey, man.”
He perked up, apparently pleased that I was talking to him rather than at him. I asked what he was doing to get off the street. With pride, he said, “I gotta hang on ‘til the end of the month. Won’t be here long. I got a new apartment, but the first and last plus deposits took all my disability check.”
That explained the patch over his left eye and the walking cane. His trousers were a quilt of patches on patches but appeared clean. Skinny but not emaciated, he had an aura of hope about him, unusual in the homeless. I always try to be nonchalant with folks on the bottom rungs of society. They know where they are. I leaned against a street repair stanchion—so I was talking sideways—facing the same direction, rather than talking down at him. Like maybe we really were equals, discussing things though my questions of him were quite personal. He didn’t seem to mind, seeing as he’d allowed that by setting up on the street with his sign.
As we talked, an attractive young woman walked past. She went a few steps more, then returned to drop some bills into his cup. He was so caught up in telling me his story that he scarcely noticed her.
She seemed to be weeping as she scurried off. I said, “She gave you money.”
“Oh, yeah.” He called after her, “Hey, thanks!” He turned back to me, glad to talk more.
I hadn’t indicated I would give him anything, but that didn’t faze him. Diabetic since he was eight years old, he’s blind in one eye and has lost several toes. Now thirty-three, he said his divorced parents never made over him. Maybe like he was an afterthought in their little worlds. I asked if he’d been a bad boy. His response was that he was a Christian though I never identified myself as such. For all I knew, the eye patch, cane, and his entire story were mere props to get something for nothing. But he hadn’t asked me for anything. To all appearances, we were two dudes who struck up a conversation there on that corner.
Not once did he ask me for a handout; we both knew that would’ve reduced him to the level of supplicant. Who knew how long since he’d been treated as an equal? He even put his sign away; it was an affront to the dignity I had casually conferred on him.
It seemed appropriate to validate our relationship as sidewalk acquaintances, so I told him my first name and extended my hand. He seemed surprised but stuck up his hand to give me a firm handshake. “My name’s Steve.”
Steve’s nails and hands appeared as clean as his story. As I glanced around, I caught the looks on the faces of passersby … Disgust, disapproval, and anger on some. A few nods. How dare they judge this man, defying abuse and humiliation simply to exist for one more day?
I imagine God weeping at the horrified expressions on some of the surrounding crowd when He lifts a degenerate out of his or her particular pig sty. And such am I, my heart as black as night, barely repentant, the stains of my sins of habit, of indifference, of callousness … washed away by the blood of Jesus.
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