Two men take refuge from the cold.
I left the house this morning after slipping some folded bills in my wallet in pockets usually occupied by extra credit and store loyalty cards – you know – those cards that take up way too much room but might earn you a fru-fru cafe’ latte if you spend enough. I chose three denominations thinking that I’d have options available to me when responding to that first person that God would put in my path.
As I left my office and walked across the street to my first meeting of the week at the Old Courthouse, I was glad to have my coat, hat and gloves to deal with the temps that had dropped below freezing. As I felt the cold on my face, it dawned on me that I’d surely encounter the young homeless man today that often stands next to a huge radiator in one of the crosshalls of the Old Courthouse. (Since it’s a public building, the homeless are generally free to stay around until closing time.) The staff, I learned, affectionately refers to this young man as “the talker” since he usually talks to himself quietly, non-stop all day.
After my meeting, I went to see if he’d be in his spot. I was oddly excited about the possibility of meeting him and asking his name rather than just walking by as I had so often done before. As I walked across the rotunda, however, I spotted a different man sitting on one of the stone benches, bundled up with bedroll neatly packet beside him.
Mental note: “This man is in need too; I’ll get him on the way back.”
Disappointed to find that “the talker” wasn’t in his expected place warming himself by the radiator, I returned to the rotunda. To my surprise, now there were two men seated on individual stone benches. The latest addition was also bunded up in cold weather clothing but instead of a bedroll, he held a military-type duffle bag close by on his bench.
Problem: “I am 100% sure both of these men could use some help, but I have bills of 3 diferent denominations with me and they are sitting only a few yards apart.”
To remedy the situation, I ducked into the Old Courthouse Gift Shop and asked to have my largest bill broken down. When I asked the shop employee and park ranger on duty if they knew anything about the two men, I learned that they were “regulars.” With two matching bills in my pockets, I returned to the rotunda. The man on the left bench was sitting quietly with eyes closed – perhaps asleep, perhaps daydreaming. Before me was an African American man easily in his 70s bundled in winter wear and wearing a knit cap. I asked his name and how he was faring the the colder temps. In a quiet, raspy voice he told me his name was Gregory and gratefully received my offer of assistance. He smiled and thanked and blessed me.
On the right bench sat a white man in his late 50’s. I think he was already aware of my presence but didn’t let on. I introduced myself and learned his name – it’s Bill. Like Gregory, Bill was bundled up but wore a hood over his gray hair and beard. He smelled of smoke – maybe from a fire, maybe from cigarettes – I’m not quite sure. I asked Bill if he had a place to sleep and he assured me he did. When I asked if I could help him get something to eat, he very graciously accepted, shook my hand and uttered “bless you, bless you, bless you.”
Today, without searching, I encounted two homeless men sitting in the Old Courthouse on hard stone benches holding all of their worldly possessions – both happy to be out of the cold. Both grateful and both willing to genuinely bless me. It’s like they were waiting for me. And to think that last week I would have easily forfeited that blessing by pretending they were invisible! Is anyone invisible to God?