Driving home from my lawyer, wrapped up in my own world's concerns, I drove past you. In fact I planned to blow right on through the next green light, desperately wanting to ignore what I knew already was the Spirit's nudge. Surrendering with an exasperated [and audible, to an empty car] "fine," I signaled right, pulled around the block, and found you where I'd seen you, leaned up against a sign pole.
I opened my passenger window and leaned over to hand you a bag of snacks; you leaned against my car to take it, shaking from the bitter cold. It's 2 degrees right now. Colder with windchill.
"It's too cold out here, man; you gotta get inside. Where are you gonna spend the night?"
"Don't know," you said, ignoring a snotsicle clinging on your mustache.
"I can give you a ride to a shelter," said I, foolishly and naively trusting. (thank you for not murdering me, by the way) You described your choices - one shelter was $15 for the month, another was free, over in St Paul. I said I'd pay the $15 if you wanted. You liked the one in St Paul better. Dorothy Day, you said it was called.
I unlock my car to you, a stranger, a stranger I picked up off the street. You stumble inside, battling unwilling legs, a dented cane, and layer upon layer of coats; I help you fasten your seat belt, because your hands are frozen, while my nose notices you've fill my car with the smell of smoke. But I guess that's your only relief from life, isn't it? I turn the fans on high, for the luke-warm air to thaw you; at least it's warmer than outside.
"You'll need to give me directions to the shelter, okay?" Huh. What you're describing sounds like the building I drive by every day on my way home from work. (and, turns out, it was)
What's your name?
Well, Gary, it's nice to meet you. You're a human being.
You said "thank God," and told me this was a God thing. You have no idea... or maybe you do... how right you are. I mean, I was ready to leave you behind, let you fend for yourself. Now I'm fighting back tears, my heart breaking as I listen to your story. You served in the marines, then the navy, for 19 years. Now for want of $25, your savings wasn't quite enough to pay your first month's rent at the new apartment building, and payday's 10 days away. You left your old one because you could smell the crystal meth they were making, and you've been clean so many years you couldn't let yourself go back to that lifestyle. So tonight you're homeless. But you're not bitter; and that amazes me.
Do you have a church you go to? No, but you're looking. What kind? A Baptist one. Hmm. I don't know many. You've been a Christian most of your life. Well... come check out mine?
Your stomach's starting to hurt. Maybe it's the cancer. I didn't quite follow all the details, just saw that you were in pain.
Nearing the shelter, I check my wallet. I don't usually carry cash, but I have exactly $25. Exactly the amount you need. It's yours. Yeah, I agree, it is a God thing.
You want my number? Here's my card. You say you'll call me tomorrow from the doctor's office, I think you want to prove to me that your story is real. I didn't say it to your face, but - I choose to believe you. I did say, though, that you're welcome at my church, and I can pick you up. Sounds like you might take me up on it.
As you leave, once again willing your legs over the rim of my car's doorway, you make it into a fully upright, and look back. I look into your eyes, again acknowledging your humanity. I sincerely meant it when I said it was a pleasure to meet you. Because you are an eye-opener for me.
I wait, watch to make sure you get inside without falling, then pull away.
Now I'm driving home. Run my hand through my hair. I don't know what to do with this experience. It affected me deep down, and I don't know how to handle it. I want to break down in sobbing. I want to fix it. I want to escape it because sitting with you in my [let's face it, rather luxurious] car was not just "kind of" awkward, it was full-on "my life's so easy compared to yours" awkward. My problems? I forgot all of them.