Friday, August 29, 2008

Homeless and hungry, just passing through....

Mother used to say that if we paid attention, looked around us, we would find reminders of those little things that keep the world turning. Since she was poor, raising four children on tiny wages and a shoestring budget, we knew Mom didn't mean for us to look around for mansions, expensive cars, diamonds and gold, or fancy clothes. She meant to keep our eyes peeled for regular people doing the right thing, showing compassion, sacrificing for the betterment of others without whining about it. She meant for us to observe the loyalty and rituals of wildlife and domestic animals, the reliable resurgence of spring, or how winter snows cleansed the air and covered Earth's bare places.

Amidst the frivolity and excesses of political conventions -- financial excesses that literally turn my stomach -- I hoped for a sign that the common world still turned in ways I could accept and appreciate. That sign came this past Wednesday in the guise of a homeless man heading east on Kansas Highway 36 to visit his mother. We passed him on the road while he pedaled a three-wheel bicycle loaded down with two dogs and everything he owned. He grinned happily and tossed a jaunty wave as we passed in reply to my husband's honk. Dressed in an Army fatigue jacket and tattered jeans, he had that weathered look of a man who spends long hours in the sun. On the back of his bicycle was a sign: "Homeless. Hungry. Will work for food for me and my dogs."

I knew without asking what my husband would want to do. We were a mile out of town, so I suggested we turn around and get a few staples at the local grocery store. Hubby was more than happy to do so. Half an hour later we found him stopped along the highway giving his dogs a drink of water and some bites of plain bread. We presented high energy drinks, bananas, crackers and peanut butter to tide him over for a day or two, a bag of dog food, and a couple deli sandwiches. He grinned and shook hands with my husband, said he had a long way to pedal himself and his dogs before reaching his destination in the heart of Illinois. But he wasn't complaining. He was happy to have transportation.

As we proceeded to our own destination, we wondered about his history. What put him in such circumstances? Would he reach his destination in Illinois? Will he take side roads or try to reach his mother by pedaling himself and his dogs along a busy interstate? Will anyone give him work? Food for him and his dogs? Shelter from the weather? Will anyone see in him what we did, a wide happy smile free of self-pity and a man willing to ride a loaded down three wheel bike hundreds of miles no matter what befell him along the way?

On our return trip home several hours later, we passed him again, more than 10 miles east of our first encounter. He was parked under shade trees, sitting cross legged in the dirt, eating a sandwich and petting his dogs as they ate their dog food. We honked, he grinned and waved as we passed. And we returned home, more thankful than ever for the reliable vehicle we drive and our comfortable home.

That night as we watched still more coverage of politicians, hubby said, "Wish I had a thousand dollars out of the millions these people (politicians) are spending on such foolishness. Just think what that man and his dogs could do with a thousand bucks."

My mother's message still rings clear after decades. Meeting that homeless man with dry bread in his pockets inspired us and reminded us that this world turns for everyone, not just the very wealthy and fiscally irresponsible politicians. We don't see everything of importance on TV. That homeless guy and his canine companions will stay in our minds long after the election has passed. We'll worry about him and pray for him and wonder if he made it safely to Illinois.

1 comment:

AstonWest said...

Of course, I don't know this particular gentleman's situation, or what brought him to this point...but I have seen the other end of the spectrum. A relative of ours was in similar financial straits, and ended up receiving a windfall (far greater than the thousand dollars in your post). Less than 2 years later, however, that relative has squandered all of it away (despite being given advice on how to manage the money) and is now back in almost the same circumstances.

Granted, we should all follow your example and help those in need, but throwing money at a problem won't always solve it.

I, too, hope this man makes it safely to Illinois.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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