I woke up this morning and grumbled as my eyes adjusted to the light flowing in through the window. I let out a supersonic groan of sorts, noticing that it was snowing lead to me covering my head with the blanket.
It was apparent that my hate/hate relationship with snow would continue in earnest. I rolled out of bed and shuffled down the stairs to get the newspaper off the porch to start my Saturday morning ritual of coupon clipping.
There was a strange ambiance in the air that I couldn’t place my finger on, thinking that my quick pick in Maryland Lottery had hit – and thought what I was feeling was the aura of a newly minted Millionaire (at the time of this writing I haven’t checked the number).
I chuckled aloud and grabbed the paper, closed the door, slid the newspaper out of the plastic and made my way to the kitchen table to get underway.
It took me roughly thirty minutes to go through the coupons and get them in their respective envelopes before I headed out.
I have to go shopping by myself because my family wants no part of me in a grocery store. Probably because I turn into my Mother and I visit 2 to 3 stores to maximize my savings in concert with the coupons. Like my Mother, I get lost in the bargains and time becomes an afterthought. However, I took it easy this time and I only visited 2 stores.
After heading out of the second and final store. I did my usual review of the receipt, tallied my savings patting myself on the back as I calculated that I saved $60 on my trip – I felt a silly grin creeping over my face as I made my way out into the parking lot.
Suddenly, a voice broke my savings trance:
“Can you help me with any change?”
I looked up startled from studying my receipt and grunted a semi-intelligent
Standing a couple feet in front of me was a man in a black jacket, dark jeans with a scruffy brown beard speckled with grey and piercing bluish gray eyes.
Typically, I look through panhandlers, justifying my inhumanity towards my fellow men with a host of generalizations from past experiences.
However, on this occasion I looked into this man’s eyes and I saw someone who was weary, but was nonetheless deserving of acknowledgement. Instead of arbitrarily walking past him, instinctively I felt myself reaching for my wallet and I was taken aback that I actually had cash on hand as I handed him a dollar bill.
“Thank you sir, you are the first person to have helped me and I’ve been out here all day”,
he exclaimed with a face flushed with emotion.
“People just look at you contemptuously and you’re the only person that hasn’t done that, thank you.”
I paused, somewhat surprised at his use of “contemptuously” as this eloquence ran counter to the image that stereotypes always provide us. How dare I make the assumption that eloquence is only reserved to those of us who don’t have to depend on the charity of others? The realization of my shortsightedness filled me with shame.
“No problem sir, God bless you“,
I said as I turned towards my car.
It didn’t end there, as he continued talking:
“I’m a veteran and my checks have stopped, I was cut in half during the war“,
he said matter of factly, and with that I stopped in my tracks and turned around.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
and it was at this moment that I looked at him as member of humanity, not as a hobbled shell of a man, not a man in a dirty jacket, but a man the same as me and I felt compelled to listen.
I started thinking about something I’ve told myself in the past about everyone having a story and “it” being the “power” that separates us from what has dominion over us.
I was facing him directly now and he continued on:
“You’re talking to a ghost“, he said.
Given my puzzled look on my face, he elaborated.
“Due to the wisdom of some number puncher at the VA they keyed me in wrong and now I’m listed as deceased, hopefully they get it fixed soon, but this is what I’m reduced to, panhandling.”
I’ve heard about veterans being keyed into the system wrong, but seeing someone who is forced to bear the burden of an error not of their own making tied my stomach in a knot, I felt for this man.
So after a brief pause I asked:
“Is that enough to help you?” (in reference to the $1 I gave him).
“Normally I try to get up $3.50, so that I can get a bus pass to get downtown to the shelter, because there is food in the city, but every little bit helps.”
I reached for my wallet again pulled out a $5 bill and outstretched my hand to him:
“Here you go, how is this?”
He looked at me with eyes brimming with tears and thanked me again. I was moved to the point that I thought that I was going to tear up myself.
“You are truly a blessing sir, now I can get a cup of hot coffee and more importantly I can give these people out here some peace, because now I won’t have bother them.”
and with that he extended his arm, gave me a firm handshake and started down the street.
As I loaded the groceries into the car, I watched him walk up the street in a back and forth motion and I bit my lip as I thought about how moved this person was at someone providing him with what would seem to be a paltry sum of $6 and how quick we are (myself included) to complain about what isn’t going right in our respective domains.
I realized that the reason many of us aren’t free is because we choose to neglect each other and by extension we are neglecting ourselves.
I started up the car and sat there a moment, tendering a silent thank you for the divine intervention for the lesson that was imparted.
Looking through another member of humanity is not an option for me anymore, this man gave me something greater than the $6 I provided him, he gave me a coupon for my humanity and that is best savings of all.