Today I met a man. He’s got to be a foot taller than me. He’s got quite a few pounds on me too, and I’m no longer the perfect size 6 I want to be!
I met this man at a grocery store about 20 minutes from where I live. Actually, to be more precise, I met him in the parking lot outside the grocery store or, to be even more precise, I met him as I was leaving the parking lot of the grocery store.
You see this man was sitting in the median between the entrance and exit of this particular shopping center. He sat on a scooter/walker type thing holding up a sign that read, “Disabled Veteran. Need help with gas, food, kids.”
I pulled up in the lane next to his chair. I didn’t make eye contact.
Seeing “those people” often makes me want to cry. The problem of poverty is so overwhelming! How could we ever hope to combat it? Even Jesus said the poor will always be with us. I’m a struggling single Mom of five boys. What difference can I make?
I slowed pulling up to the red light. I was the only car waiting, and I was glad to pass this nameless man sitting in the median without having to stop at his side and look at him. I reverted to childishly hoping that, “If I didn’t see him, maybe he wouldn’t see…”
I waited for the light to turn green. I thought of the turkey I’d just asked the cashier to put back. I could pay for it another day, but we are still on a tight budget, and I buy only what I can pay cash for. Today, even with Thanksgiving sales, turkey would have to wait.
I thought of the donations I’d just made leaving the grocery store to the Stuff the Bus campaign, which would be donated to Catholic Charities. The bag I handed over wasn’t much, but I’d literally just donated a canister of oatmeal, a box of pasta, and a bag of brown sugar. The brown sugar wasn’t on the requested food list, but I felt like a bit of a rebel buying it and smiled hoping it might help some family make Christmas cookies together this season.
I’d done enough, more than many would.
If the Veteran in the median needed help, he could go to the front of the store where they were stuffing that bus. I was on my way to Adoration. My Rosary beads were in my pocket. I’d say a prayer for this disabled Vet, this nameless man, but what more could I do?
I’d done enough; the light turn green.
But while I was playing the Pharisee, patting myself on the back for all the good I do, another voice was speaking gently to me, calling me, telling me to go to the man whose eyes I would not meet.
I pulled into the intersection and then turned my vehicle around, heading back down the entrance ramp. The man should have stayed on my left, but he’d picked up his chair/walker contraption and began shuffling his way toward the parking lot.
I drove toward where he met another man standing by a little, beat up vehicle. The new man popped the trunk as I pulled into a space a few yards away still unsure of what I was to do.
I sat awkwardly in the car, fidgeting, stalling, and feeling a bit like a stalker as the two men talked and occasionally sent curious glances my way.
I was uncomfortable. They’d think I was stupid. I was sure of it. What kind of high and mighty person did I think I was approaching them? And for what? I’d already spent all my cash. I reached into my ash tray. There was $3 I saved for emergency milk money. I had one more in my pocket.
That’s all I had today. I wondered about the two men suspiciously. What if they were scammers? What if they used the money for alcohol or drugs or something worse? What of they didn’t really need it? What if…?
The what if’s threatened to take over but there was a quiet, gentle, “What if…?” I heard too…
What if the man did really need it? What if he did really need money for food, gas, kids? What if he isn’t a scammer?
I thought of the Rosary beads in my pocket that I was about to use at Adoration. They were a cheap plastic set I’d just found the day before in an old pocketbook. I had other Rosary beads. Did I need them? What good were they doing in my pocket?
I opened my car door, fought down the uncomfortableness in my belly that told me I was foolish. I listened instead to the gentle, quiet voice, “Go.”
I approached the man from the median without knowing what to say. He was still seated, and I put my hand out and touched his shoulder, “Thank you for your service,” I said as I would to any of our nation’s Veterans.
His eyes softened and a spark lit inside. He put his hand out. I took it and we shook introducing ourselves. He wasn’t unnamed at all.
He was Anthony Monroe.
Big Anthony’s hand was dark, smooth, cool, and massive. It enveloped mine quickly and held mine with a tenderness that belied the giant man’s great size, stumbling shuffle, and stuttered speech.
We spoke for a few minutes. I told him I was a single Mom of five boys on my way to prayer and that I’d pray for him. I wished I had more to give him as I pressed the $4.00 and my plastic Rosary beads into his hand. All doubt about Anthony washed away. I shook the other man, Peter’s hand. I couldn’t get the read I’d hoped for when I looked into his eyes but hoped he was good to Big Anthony. I stepped back to talk with Anthony again. He told me he had four children. I didn’t stay long enough to learn much more.
I didn’t stay long. I left these two men who were so different from me in the parking lot, placing the chair and the sign in their trunk, Big Anthony leaning heavily on the car as he walked to his door.
I drove off and entered the little chapel up the road. I knelt before our Lord and began the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary minus the beads I had planned to use. I wiped away tears as they fell.
I’m guessing there are some who would say I was stupid for approaching two men I don’t know. After a lomg time of not understanding, I am finally beginning to value myself enough as a creation of God to know I am expected to be careful, to treat myself well, to avoid unnecessary risks, and to respect the dignity the Creator gives each of us, even someone like me, but it was daylight and the parking lot was populated. The risk wasn’t too great.
I’m guessing there are some who would say I was naive and probably just got scammed. I know it’s possible, but the $4.00 I contributed is not going to make or break any addiction. On the other hand, if there is addiction, I can hope some part of the Love I tried to show might break it.
I’m guessing there are some who would think I must have felt good about myself for leaving my comfort zone and making a little donation, but I felt no pride for having reached out.
Instead, I found sadness, overwhelm, and disappointment.
I knelt before the Cross praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, reflecting on the first decade and Jesus’ time in the Garden. I thought of how beautiful a garden should be but how it was such a place of pain for our Savior. At the fourth decade, I reflected on Jesus’ carrying of the Cross and of how earth should be such a place of beauty, but how it is often such a place of suffering. I thought of how heavy the Crosses so many bear are.
I thought of Big Anthony and how, in my nervousness, I talked when I should have listened. I’d pressed the $4 and my newly found Rosary beads into his cool, black hand, but I should have stayed longer. I should have listened to his stories, taken some of his burden, and invited him to join me in prayer if nothing else.
I thought of our Veterans and how so many are hurting and alone even so close to Veteran’s Day. I thought of how much a single mom has to be thankful for that wouldn’t be possible without the sacrifice of those willing to give me opportunity and freedom. I thought of the trouble in our nation and how divided we are. I thought of how much good we could do if we looked into each other’s eyes, shook hands, and realized each of us is named and called by God.
I thought of how we look at one another with suspicion, presuming others guilty without first seeking to know them. I thought of a Facebook friend who suggested we exchange news feeds so I could see her liberal view and she could see my conservative view. I hadn’t written her back yet because I knew exchanging news feeds wouldn’t be enough. I was thinking of asking her to spend time with me and allow me the gift of spending time with her instead.
Today, I realized that spending time with others needs to go far deeper than what I’d thought of proposing.
We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We are called to live the Gospel and make a difference in this world.
hard impossible when we see first with suspicion, when we see the Vet in the median as a scammer, a drug addict, a threat, when we choose the worst attributes and cast nets over the masses. It seems impossible when we pretend we onto see and make valued, precious, created people into invisible, nameless, worth-less beings.
I don’t know if I made any difference in the lives of Big Anthony or Peter, but they made a difference in me. I am grateful for the few minutes in that parking lot and for how my views have deepened my certainty that we are called to reach out to one another.
I am most grateful for the gentle whisper that told me to, “Turn around. Go.“
What a gift it was for me to get to meet these men, two children of God. How I wish I’d been a better representative of His Love for them.
Next time I pull over to speak to a homeless Veteran or another of God’s children, I’ll be more prepared. I may not have any money or may decide not to offer it even if I do, but I must offer to listen more, speak less, and thank God for all His children.
Veteran’s Day has just passed, but many of our nation’s heroes are struggling. This Thanksgiving, as many of us count almost unlimited reasons to be thankful, as the Joy of the Christmas season approaches, and as the bitterness of a long, cold winter follows, listen for the little voice of God amidst the celebration. Listen for Him telling you to “Turn around. Go.” Seek out those who are different from you, those who are struggling this holiday, and those who need to be shown True Love and offer God’s Love both in prayer and in concrete ways.
Big Anthony and Peter, wherever you are tonight, I am praying for you now and hope to listen to your stories when we meet again in Heaven one day. Thank you for giving me a few moments of your time today…
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