Ongoing Stories of My Soul

Look over my shoulder as I ponder life.

Looking for a Stranger

Had to run some errands last night. Ended up at the ‘D. Hall Mall’–which is my code name for Family Dollar. Anyway, it was dark and cold and I was preoccupied with the mental list of purchases that my brain was quickly forgetting. I can hear you now: “Why didn’t you write it down?” Because. I. Forgot.

Anyway, as I exited my car I watched this younger guy push an empty bask-cart (or a ‘buggy’ if you live in the South) to the store’s door. He was moving around somewhat aimlessly. As I got closer he walked towards me and said, “Hello. My name is Michael.” Before he could even start his ‘parking-lot-panhandling protocol’ I emphatically said, “I do not give cash!” and kept my confidant stride towards the door. Told him!

What happened next was a bit disconcerting. This youth dropped his head and quietly muttered, “I wasn’t going to ask you for money. I was going to ask you for directions.” The look on his face was a map of ‘lostness’. I called him back, eager to help him with directions. But his back was to me, his gait reflected hopelessness, and our parting exchange was him saying, “Never mind. That’s okay.”

I never give cash. Never. And I am approached almost weekly. Generally, as they come walking toward me, I say: “Don’t even ask.” That way, it saves me from saying no and them from hearing it. Even trade. My deal is this….if I think I can help another, and I’m being led to do so, then I approach them. It’s my call. And God’s. And don’t ask me for money. If I can’t control how a beggar is going to spend my spare change, then I am not sharing. Forget what I learned in kindergarten; charity comes with strings.

Well, I did my shopping, made another stop or two, and drove home. Can I just tell you that this stranger was haunting me? Was I  misreading this individual or was I just getting all soft and gooey in my old age? Ummm…I was referring to my heart, not my waistline. But now that I think about it….Oh never mind.

I was tired. And cold. Ready to finally sit down and enjoy my cozy little home. But soon I found myself putting on my coat and gloves and started my car– searching for Michael. While I can be firm in my responses with the begging populous of the world, I am generally not rude. But this was a moment of cutting words and discourteous dismissal. I don’t know about you, but I rather think everyone is worthy of civilized kindness.

I drove around various parking lots, dark streets, surveying the folks coming and going from various businesses. I was determined to find this kid and make amends. Why? So I could absolve myself from guilt, a skewed ego, or mean spirit? Partly. But there was a tug at this soul of mine that he just didn’t need one more rejection. Have you ever had days like that? Yeah, me too.

As I turned into the Sav-A-Lot parking area, there he was. Just standing. I got out of my car and said, “Michael?” He walked over towards me and I recounted our exchange outside the Family Dollar store. I apologized for my mean self and he just looked at me and explained his plight. “I’m locked out, trying to get to my grandmother’s, called about the price of a cab, my dad’s a truck driver headed for Lexington–did you know there was a Lexington? I only knew of Louisville.” Well, I almost told him, that yes, I knew of Lexington. But he sure didn’t need to prepare for a geography test.

As I listened to his conversation I used all of my critical thinking skills to find holes in his story. But he stopped midway and said, “I can’t believe you came back to find me. I just don’t know where to go. The Wheeler Mission is not taking anyone else for the night.” I did know this to be true, as it fills up early on cold nights, and they do turn away folks after a certain time. Yep…I had offered to give him a ride there. Cops won’t unlock his apartment and the landlord has to have a written statement faxed to him saying he lives there. With his dad on the road, that was not an option. Grandma lived in Noblesville, and he is welcome to come but she doesn’t drive.

Are you doing what I did? Trying to measure his words to see if there was truth in them? Listening for slip-ups in the sequence of events so I could pull out my “This is a bunch of crap” red pen and mark a big fat ‘F’ on his forehead?

He never asked me for a dime. Ironic, isn’t it, that we met outside the Family Dollar and he was lacking in both. I really just listened and tried to put him at ease. I had no clear solutions to his problem but if getting him to Grandma’s in Noblesville was his next plan of action, then he needed $16 more dollars for that to happen. Yeah, the cab company had given him an estimate of the fare. He was short a few bucks. I am short always…so we had that in common.

Michael was given a five dollar bill from the short lady who never gives cash. I cannot tell you when I felt so good about giving another person money. Could I have scraped up the $16 he needed? Hmmm…maybe with some careful excavating from the bottom of my purse. But he was thrilled with the five, gave me a hug, and thanked me over and over again for coming back.

Looking for a stranger may be deemed dangerous by you. I have to agree. But perhaps that is what the scriptures are whispering to us when it tells us to love the unlovely, take risks in caring for others, and to “dry the orphant’s tear.” Oh wait. That last one was James Whitcomb Riley. But no matter. Everyone is worthy of a kind act now and then.

Even when you are called to go out and look for a stranger named, “Michael.”