Lesson from a Barefoot Panhandler

Posted: June 15, 2018 in Blog
Tags: , , , , , , ,

There’s almost always a panhandler at the parking lot entrance to the office supply store across town. It’s rarely the same person, so I think the people who station themselves there must stake claim with a first-come, first-serve approach. Sometimes there’s one person. Occasionally there are two people together. Sometimes the person has a backpack and a tent or a scruffy pet. I’ve seen folks in their early 20s. I’ve seen folks who are probably in mid-life. They’re out there in blazing heat and bitter cold. The dog-eared, cardboard sign, a flap from a box with a Sharpie scrawled message to passersby,  is ubiquitous.

“Homeless. Anything helps.”

“3 kids, please help.”

“Trying to get home.”

“Please help. God bless.”

I stopped by the office supply store yesterday toward the end of my work day.  I had eleventy million things on my mind that I needed to do. Running plans for how my evening would go and when I would put together the tee shirt bags I wanted to create, I got back in the car and pulled up to the light at the entrance/exit of the parking lot.

As you might expect, there was a panhandler on the corner. If I happen to be carrying cash, I share a dollar or two, or a bottle of water in the summer, or a cup of coffee in the winter. Whatever their reason for being out there, heat stroke and frostbite probably don’t figure prominently into their plans. Yesterday, I was so caught up in the planning for the supplies I had just purchased, I forgot to pick up a bottle of water for the man on the corner.

The panhandler was standing by the first car in the stop light queue when I pulled up. He was maybe mid-20s, bearded, wearing a dark tee shirt with some kind of graphic on the front which was obscured by the worn cardboard sign he was holding. I sat at the red light long enough to notice the little pile of his backpack and his sneakers kicked off in the dust on such a beautiful afternoon. I looked at him again—mid-20s, bearded, barefoot with his pant legs rolled up to mid-calf. His feet were a couple of shades lighter than his legs and they looked soft and unsuspecting standing there on the curb of the midway.

He started to walk toward my car, keeping about 3 feet to the side. As he got closer, I rolled my window down and before I could speak to him, he spoke to me, stopping near my door.

“You look mad. Are you mad?” he said gently.

“Who? Me?” I asked.

“Yeah, you. You look mad.”

“Oh. I was just thinking about something.”

My eye swept up and down. There was something about him being barefoot that riveted me. He wasn’t that old…maybe 23 or 24. He could have been an NIU student. Maybe he WAS an NIU student. I wondered who he had been before he panhandled, barefoot in the Office Max parking lot. The questions were quick and blurry. Where had he gone to high school? Did he have a prom date? Did he ever play baseball and go out for pizza with his team when they won? Who dropped him off for his first day of kindergarten?  Did anyone touch his tiny baby feet and speak softly to him? He had feet, he had been a baby, someone brought him onto the planet.  Who was this man before he came to this parking lot?

The red light changed to green. The car ahead of me pulled forward.

“Hey! Don’t be mad, okay? It’s a beautiful day!”

I looked into his face. He broke into a smile, disarming, uneven teeth appearing through his beard. He didn’t come any closer to my window. He wasn’t asking me for anything—he just wanted to talk. I couldn’t stop my own smile in return. His eyes crinkled at the edges and he flapped his sign at me.

“Have a blessed day!” he called, still smiling.

I waved to him, also still smiling, and he shrunk in my side view mirror as I drove away.

Don’t be mad, okay?

I pondered that, struck by his words. I hadn’t been mad. I was simply pre-occupied with something I wanted to get finished for work.  Today. I wanted it done today. It reminded me that an old boss, my favorite boss, used to tease me about how she could always tell if I was thinking seriously about something because it looked like I wanted to kill everyone around me. It took her three years to realize that expression meant only that I was thinking hard, and not that I was homicidal.

I have said for many years that the Universe gives me EXACTLY whom I need at EXACTLY the time I need them. It’s all a matter of listening to the messages.

When I got home, I put the project materials away until morning and took the dogs out to the back yard. I dragged my miniature dirt digging toys out of the garage and made container gardens for my driveway. When I finished that, I sat in my favorite Adirondack chair with a book and a soft drink and listened to the cardinals call up and down the street. I let the project slide from my thoughts and took some time to absorb one of the last evenings of spring.

I got a gift from a strange man who was asking for spare change and I had given him nothing.

It’s a beautiful day. Indeed, it was. If you watch, the Universe brings you EXACTLY who you need EXACTLY when you need them. If you’re really fortunate, as I was yesterday, the Universe will bring you a barefoot panhandler with a charming smile, who will remind you to slow down and just BE. When that happens, don’t be mad, okay?

barefoot

 

 

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