Written on 11/05/2017. Published 2/27/2019.
The other day I was dropping a large box off at the UPS store for Dusty. He had ordered a fan light for his bathroom that had arrived damaged. Rushing after work at 5pm I was so excited to get street parking directly in front of the UPS store. Once I parked I immediately regretted my convenient spot. It was just a few yards from one of the busiest intersections in town. After waiting several minutes to be able to open my door in between cars speeding by, I opened my back door and lifted the box.
Woah, it was heavy! And the cars were about to speed by again. Not the best spot to park. Cars were about to cruise by me as my car door was open into the street. I was using all my strength to lift the massive box and trying not to lose my shipping label in the wind. All of a sudden I see a man rush into the middle of the street to cross, and then he just stopped.
This man, almost getting hit by a car, appeared to be homeless. He was wearing ragged clothes, long shaggy hair and was waving his hands at me like we were best friends. We have quite a bit of homeless in our small town. They have been bused in for several years now. Having a limited number of beds at the 2 or 3 homeless shelters in town, we have gotten used to seeing them sleeping on street corners and begging for money at each intersection. Most of the locals ignore them and talk about how they’re ruining our beautiful town.
The rate of drugs rising, camper vans parked for days on end in nice neighborhoods, dirty and scary people walking through downtown next to clean-cut families. It can be unpleasant. Those who help don’t get far. Many only want money to feed their addictions. We watch a steady flow of new homeless come in each year, just to watch the old ones disappear. What’s the answer?
So, as I’m rushing out of my car trying not to drop this heavy box with a fragile bathroom light in it, this man stopping traffic was a blessing. I was able to gather all my things, lock my doors, and get to the sidewalk in time for him to start walking towards me allowing room for the cars to drive by.
He looks closer at my face and realizes I’m not the person he thought he knew. He says, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” waving his hands and smiling wide. He then asks to help me with my oversized box. I should have said yes since it ended up very difficult to open the UPS front door, but at the time I said no thanks. His eyes were kind and tired. He smiled and said, “Have a nice day”, all the while still standing in the middle of the street. I smiled at him and said thank you and to be careful crossing the street. He smiled even bigger and he walked across to the other side of the street as I entered UPS.
Right after UPS I went to Safeway, not thinking too much of what just happened. While in Safeway a woman came to me and said, “Excuse me, were you just at the UPS store?” She had seen the interaction with the homeless man and myself. She wanted to know if I was okay and if I knew the man who almost got hit by the cars. We had a pleasant but short conversation as I told her how nice he had been to me.
Thinking back, I could have been cold and abrupt to the old man. It would have been so easy to ignore him, scowl at him, and sprint into the store. But if I had done that, than this woman (who I had no idea was standing on the street watching) would have witnessed a very different kind of character from me. Like I said, it would have been so easy to treat him like he wasn’t there… just another homeless man on the streets.
But grace. I don’t know this man’s story. I don’t know how he ended up on the streets. I definitely don’t know why he showed me so much generosity and kindness. Beneath the dirt, the ragged clothes and uncut hair, he is just a man cherished by God. It’s not my place to judge this man who has been saved by God’s grace. So for the answer, I do not know. But I do know that showing kindness to a stranger (me being the stranger) enriched three lives that day. It did not save that man from the streets and it did not give anyone the answers to life, but that woman witnessed grace and love between two complete strangers. God calls us to love our neighbors. That doesn’t only mean the person living in the house next to yours. It means everyone. It won’t always save lives, but kindness is contagious.