He was kind of scary. He sat there on the grass with his cardboard sign, his adorable dog and tattoos running up and down both arms an even on his neck. His sign proclaimed him to be "stuck and hungry" and to please help.
I'm such a soft touch for anyone needing help. My husband both hates and loves this quality in me.
I pulled the van over and in my rearview mirror contemplated this man, tattoos and all. He was youngish, maybe forty. He wore one of those bandannas ties over his head, biker/pirate style. Anyone could see he was dirty and had a scraggly beard. But if you looked closer you could see that he had neatly tucked in the black T-shirt, and his things were in a small, tidy bundle. Nobody was stopping for him. I could see the other drivers take one look and immediately focus on something else — anything else.
It was so hot out. I could see in the man's very blue eyes how dejected and tired and worn out he felt. The sweat was tricking down his face. As I sat with the air- conditioning blowing, the Scripture suddenly popped into my head. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, so ye have done it unto me."
I reached down into my purse and extracted a $10 bill. My 12-year-old son, Nick, knew right away what I was doing. "Can I take it to him, Mom?"
"Be careful, honey," I warned and handed him the money. I watched in the mirror as he rushed over to the man, and with a shy smile, handed it to him. I saw the man, startled, stand and take the money, putting it into his back pocket. "Good," I thought to myself, "now he will at least have a hot meal tonight." I felt satisfied, proud of myself. I had made a sacrifice and now I could go on with my errands.
When Nick got back into the car, he looked at me with sad, pleading eyes. "Mom, his dog looks so hot and the man is really nice." I knew I had to do more.
"Go back and tell him to stay there, that we will be back in 15 minutes," I told Nick. He bounded out of the van and ran to tell the tattooed stranger.
We then ran to the nearest store and bought our gifts carefully. "It can't be too heavy," I explained to the children. "He has to be able to carry it around with him." We finally settled on our purchases. A bag of dog food, a flavored chew toy shaped like a bone, some doggie snacks, two bottles of water (one for him and one for the dog), a water dish and some people snacks for the man.
We rushed back to the spot where we had left him and there he was, still waiting. And still nobody else had stopped for him. With hands shaking, I grabbed our bags and climbed out of the car, all 4 of my children following me, each carrying gifts. As we walked up to him, I had a fleeting moment of fear, hoping he wasn't a serial killer.
I looked into his eyes and saw something that startled me and made me ashamed of my judgment. I saw tears. He was fighting like a little boy to hold back his tears. How long had it been since someone showed this man kindness? I told him I hoped it wasn't too heavy for him to carry and showed him what we had bought. He just stood there, like a child at Christmas, and I felt like my small contributions were so inadequate. When I took out the water dish, he snatched it out of my hands as if it were solid gold and told me he had had no way to give his dog water. He gingerly set it down, filled it with the bottled water we brought, and stood up to look directly into my eyes. His were so blue, so intense, and my own filled with tears as he said, "Ma'am, I don't know what to say." He then put both hands on his bandanna-clad head and just started to cry. This man, this "scary" man, was so gentle, so sweet, so humble.
I smiled through my tears and said, "Don't say anything." Then I noticed the tattoo on his neck. It said, "Mama tried."
As we all piled into the van and drove away, he was on his knees, arms around his dog, kissing his nose and smiling. I waved cheerfully and then finally broke down in tears.
I have so much. My worries seem so trivial and petty now. I have a home, a loving husband and four beautiful children. I have a bed. I wondered where he would sleep tonight.
My stepdaughter Brandie turned to me and said in the sweetest little-girl voice, "I feel so good."
Although it seemed as if we had helped him, the man with the tattoos gave us a gift that I will never forget. He taught that no matter what the outside looks like, inside each of us is a human being deserving of kindness, of compassion, of acceptance. He opened his heart.
Tonight and every night I will pray for the gentle man with the tattoos and his dog. And I will hope that God will send more people like him into my life to remind me what's really important.
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 1 John 3:17
- Source Unknown
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