Sunday, April 2, 2006

Entry 3201 The Man in the Light

While many find Friday nights are for fun and excitement, socializing and partying, my schedule often has me working into the later hours of that night. Such it was not long ago, when I was finishing up merchandising products in a local Hispanic supermarket. By the end of the week I’m usually pretty tired and anxious to get done, get home and relax…this week seemed even more so than usual.

I walked out of the store at the completion of my tasks and saw a man standing under one of the few street lights in the parking lot, right by a cart return station. He was playfully scuffling with a dog that he held in his arms, a sort of border collie. As I grew closer I saw that he appeared to be both blind and homeless. He had a beat-up white cane tucked under his arm, and a worn backpack was slung over the other.

Under nearly any circumstance the man would have stood out…he was kind of hard to miss, the only brightly lit object to be found in that lot. However, upon later reflection it is clear to me now that I, particularly, was not to miss him.

Within my belief system lies the idea that we are all put here to help each other--I often give money to homeless people and panhandler sorts. I know that they likely use that money for cigarettes or alcohol, but that’s not my concern. I can’t control what they use it for…and after all, mine is a world based on individual free choices. I have provided them with cash--I have done my part--it’s not my money any more, but theirs to spend (or waste) as they wish.

As I approached the man, his dog now lying by his feet, I could see that he now held a steel bowl with paper taped to it, on which he had written some Bible verses—quotes from the Scriptures. There were other words as well, in a language I could not understand. I placed a couple of dollar bills in his bowl and studied his face. He looked to be Caucasian, middle-aged with handsome sharp-edged features…his eyes were almost completely closed and he was somewhat unshaven but was absent any facial hair. He greeted me and thanked me for my contribution. His voice was clear and somewhat tenor, and his language and diction showed him to be intelligent and well educated. I glanced down at his dog. The poor animal was badly in need of a bath and a good brushing and grooming, but its eyes were clear and bright. As I walked away I told him “May God bless you," which I say to nearly all the homeless/disadvantaged people I meet.

I arrived at my work van and emptied into it the various empty boxes I had accumulated from my visit to the store. I got into the driver’s seat and started away, through the parking lot and towards home…but I could not leave.

Now, I’m not a deeply religious person…but I do believe in a Higher Power of some sort. I have a spiritual nature that allows me to understand and accept what others might question.

By my recollection I drove away and turned around three times…each time that I tried to leave I was overcome with a terrible sense of responsibility…but to whom? To this homeless blind man and his dog, that I did not know? It was getting late…many thoughts flashed through my mind: I was very tired and had yet to eat dinner myself…I had only a little money left that I could have spent to help him.…he wasn’t my responsibility—I can’t help ALL the homeless people, now can I? What was I to do?

Why couldn’t I just be content with leaving him behind, going ahead with my life and he with his? In my tired and hungry state, I kept trying to justify it, driving away but then turning around, realizing it just wasn’t right.

The final time I drove back I was fervently hoping that perhaps he had moved on, wasn’t there anymore. But as I got closer I could see that he was still under that streetlight, his dog still at his feet. I parked nearby and approached him again…I knew what I was going to do…what I would say.

“Hello again,” I greeted him; “are you and your companion hungry?”

“Yes," he responded. He lowered his head somewhat as he said it.

The answer was such that I will never forget. It was full of more honesty than any other I had ever received. Also present in his tone were sorrow but pride, pain but also faith. He drew it out a bit; then clipped it off, said it almost with resignation to his present condition. I cannot begin to properly imitate the manner in which he spoke that simple word.
“I was hoping to get enough”--he shook the bowl, and I could hear a bit of change inside it--“to go shopping inside the store. But I don’t know....” His voice trailed off.

“I'm going to help you with that. Please--wait right here if you would--I’ll see to it that you have something to eat. I’ll be back in a few moments,” I told him.

I had already searched my memory for any fast-food places or taco stands that might be nearby or still open. I hastily walked back into the store…what to get him? The Deli was already closed, so hot food was out of the question--my first choice. I even went so far as to ask some of the employees still working there if there was any hot food left…but to no avail. Trying to think clearly through my weariness and the low blood sugar state I was fast approaching…what to get? The store was fairly small and there wasn’t a lot of selection…and I wasn’t all that familiar with Mexican cuisine and its possibilities. I moved to the pet food aisle and grabbed a small bag of dog food; found a gallon jug of water, then a small bowl for his dog. Lastly I picked up three small cans of Vienna sausages and a package of flour tortillas, hoping that would be enough. As I was short on cash I was trying to keep a running total in my head as I went.

Seven dollars and sixty-four cents. Such a small amount for two that likely needed it so much! But, it was nearly all that I had, and I was also cognizant of his condition…it’s not likely that he had any way of storing or carrying a lot of groceries. I imagined the backpack to be one of his few possessions, and it likely containing the rest of them.
I saw him still standing there as I walked out into the night again, perhaps more than a little hopeful that I would keep my promise and return. I showed him the contents of the shopping cart, explaining as I went, guiding his hands over the items there. I wasn’t sure how much eyesight he really had…I figured he would tell me if he couldn’t see or didn’t understand.

“Okay…here’s a bag of dog food for your companion…here’s a gallon of water for both of you, and a bowl for him to drink from. I’m sorry, the Deli was closed inside, so I couldn’t get you any hot food. But I got you these cans of Vienna sausages…”—“Oh good, good” he said, voicing his approval—“and some flour tortillas that you can wrap them inside, or to eat separately,” I continued.

He thanked me profusely. I shook his hand and he took it into both of his…I told him, in a voice that was starting to waver, “I believe we have a responsibility here to take care of each other.”

“I believe that too,” he said.

Then I added--again, what I nearly always say--”May God bless you!” I had tears in my eyes and emotion was getting the better of me.

“May God bless you as well, my friend! I know He’s watching right now," he said, in a way that seemed to reach inside me the way his previous answer had. I nodded and smiled, and stepped back a bit before my emotions completely overcame me. He slipped his collection bowl into his backpack, and he now began pushing the shopping cart toward the sidewalk, seeking refuge behind the store to enjoy his meal--such as it was. I started to walk briskly to the van, and in a voice choked with emotion I called back over my shoulder, “He needs to watch over you!”
I got in and started to drive away. With my eyes full of tears I said out loud, “I wish I could have done more!

I drove home that way, wiping away tears, thinking about what had just happened.

I never saw him again. There have been several times when I have found myself in that same area at that same time, but he’s not been there. I’ve sort of watched for him…I am convinced that there was something very special that happened that night. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to completely understand not only what happened, but also what it all meant. For now, I believe that I might have been tested in some way--and I hope that I was able to pass that test. I’ve read and have been told that it doesn’t happen at a convenient time, or when you are best able to cope with it…quite the opposite.

As for the Man in the Light--when I am experiencing trying and difficult times, I am aware of a strange presence, and I think of him. It's as if someone is right there with me.

Perhaps he was some sort of angel…maybe He was even more than that.

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