I Love You
I stopped at the gas station to get a cheap wake-me-up mocha. I parked my old diesel Rabbit next to the store and went inside to get my fix. As I walked out, pretentious yuppie drink in hand, I saw a thin man walk in my general direction. Shabby t-shirt, jeans and a craggy face lined with the weight of an endured life told me he was a homeless wanderer. I cannot count how many times I have been approached by shady people with a routine, whether they are selling baskets or candy in the Safeway parking lot, or a plump possible mother at the gas station with a sob story about running out of gas just a half mile down the road - just far enough they know you won't take the time to verify the story. I can spot this refuse from a mile away.
I call them refuse because I see them hanging out in the parking lot, pretending not to look in my direction as I leave the store, and when I get close to my car, they come ambling toward me, but at an angle, as if they are not coming my way at all. And when they are just far enough away that I think I'll be able to get in my car without having to acknowledge them, they call out in a small voice with just enough projection that I am certain to hear them. They use the word "sir" as if to give me the feeling that I am above them, the implication being that the poor person is appealing to the big successful shopper who has plenty of money to afford not only good food but also ice cream or whatever vice you have buried in your plastic shopping bags. You disgusting slob, you can't afford to spend 5 bucks to help a poor mother out? Then, in a meek voice they ask if I want to buy, candy, handmade baskets or flowers.
But this other guy at the gas station was merely ambling through, and actually looked like the genuine article, and as he passed, he casually asked if I could spare some change. I told him I had none, and he thanked me and walked over to the curb to sit down. I got in my old Rabbit and closed the door, mocha in hand. Perhaps he was a "professional beggar," but I looked at him and got the feeling he was the genuine article. His demeanor, like his clothes and his thin body, told me had had been poor a long time, and a few bucks could help him out a little. I looked in my wallet and found 5 dollars I decided was the right amount to give him. I stepped out of my hot car and walked over to him.
I was tired and cranky at the time, and I know I looked like I had swallowed a sour grape - hence the stop for caffeine. I bent down to give him the money and he looked at me with a look that was both grateful and a little surprised. He said "thank you," and I told him "You're welcome," and as I straightened up, he looked up and said, "I love you." That struck me as the weirdest thing, and yet, the way I felt towards him, totally appropriate. My response surprised me, but I said without hesitation exactly what was on my heart, "I love you too."
With that sour look on my face, I hope he took me seriously. I meant it, and so did he. He blessed me that day because he expected nothing from me. He asked for money hoping I would give him something and not taking offense when I said no. That was the most important thing to me. He was humble, and truly grateful. We will always have poor people around us, and as much as they might be responsible for their own circumstances, we cannot allow that to be a reason not to give when we have been given so much more. In the end, we do not control all our circumstances, so if we are blessed with more than someone else and we can share some of that blessing, then we ought to.
My lasting impression is that this particular person was an angel in disguise, sent to bless me: a poor sinner with much to be grateful for.