Homeless But Thankful: A Lesson Learned
In case you haven't heard, I'm planning a wedding. A second wedding no less - and if you think people had opinions about what you should or should not do when you tie the knot for the first time - well, just try hearing all of the "I'm sure you're planning on wearing a lovely blue pantsuit for the ceremony" commentary for the second go-round. It's about as fun as being forced to smuggle razorblades in your intestines. Also, my daughter is gone for 10 weeks, visiting her father in Louisiana, 1,800 miles away from me. So that sucks.
Why am I recapping all of this for you? Well, I'm trying to set the scene because - and I know this will come as a surprise to you - I've been rather grumpy lately. Usually I'm chock full of awesome, and while some things never fade entirely (meaning I'm still 80% awesome, 90% of the time), lately I've been feeling more like I'm chock full of, well, I don't know what but let's just say it's not on the list of synonyms for awesome.
So imagine grumpy me, picking up my prescription last week at the pharmacy. I wait in line for 20 minutes. I'm annoyed when I get to the front of the line from waiting, and I'm totally annoyed at THE ENTIRE WORLD already on this day, so I'm trying my best to keep it in check. I give them my name and date of birth and the cashier insists they don't have my prescription. I'm sure that they do, I called it in MYSELF and of course I'm perfect and never make mistakes. Finally they realize they had a glitch in their system (small victory for me, perfection reaffirmed in that moment) and they somehow didn't fill it. They ask me to hang on - it should only take about 5 minutes to fix. Annoyed, but pacified, I agree to wait. Two minutes later they cashier returns to announce, without any trace of apology in his voice, that they are COMPLETELY OUT OF MY MEDICINE.
Can they fill it in the next few days? He doesn't know. The next week? He doesn't know. Finally I ask if I should take the prescription to another pharmacy to be filled and he shrugs and says "maybe" while simultaneously looking behind me to help the next person.
Since I'm already in such a fantastic mood (I'm using sarcasm liberally here) this sort of sends me over the edge. I'm not sure why. It really shouldn't. Is it annoying? Yes. But at the back of my mind I realize that my level of frustration is even higher than it should be. The tears stinging at the corners of my eyes remind me of the time when I was 12, still learning to deal with the mood swings of puberty, when I accidentally knocked over the empty trash can in the bathroom. Instead of picking it up I collapsed into a heap of tears. (Later I laughed hysterically at the fact that I cried over a trash can. Yay adolescence!) Standing there in the pharmacy, I realize that I'm having one of those unreasonable 'bathroom trash can' moments now, so I quickly walk/jog out of the store.
I sit in my hot car without turning it on and take a few deep breaths to calm down. Finally I start the car and start to drive away. As I'm pulling out of the parking space I am suddenly overwhelmed with this nagging feeling like I'm supposed to stop and help someone. I know that sounds a bit crazy, and maybe it is. But I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if a situation presented itself that I needed to stop and help.
When I try to cross over to my typical exit from the parking lot, I find that it is closed off, forcing me to choose a different route. As I'm pulling up to the alternate exit I see a man, about 55, standing on the corner with a sign saying "Please help". It seems like the perfect chance to assuage that nagging feeling, so I slow down and cautiously roll down my window.
"Good afternoon miss" he says.
"Good afternoon" I say, handing him a dollar out of the window. I follow it up with "What do you need? How can I help?"
"Well," he says mopping his brow with a dingy handkerchief "if you have any extra water that I could have I'd really appreciate it. It's hot out here. It's ok if you've already drank from the bottle - I don't mind."
"How about I go and get you some cold water right there from the grocery store?" I ask him. "What else do you need? Do you need any food?"
"No ma'am. The good Lord saw to it that I had a meal already today, and tonight I'm sleeping at a shelter so I'll get a hot meal there. Really, if you would be so kind as to get me some water, that is all that I need."
Then he said the thing that blew me away. "Anything more than that would just be exceeding my needs."
Exceeding his needs? I looked at this man in his worn clothing, with his tanned weathered skin and wrinkled hands who planned to sleep in a shelter that night and found myself fighting back tears for the second time that day - but this time for a very different reason.
Quickly promising him that I'd be right back with his water, I pulled away and allowed myself to cry. It was one of those big, sobbing cries with that was coupled with total shame and complete understanding. I realized with perfect clarity in that moment how blessed I was - with health, insurance, loved ones, and yes, even financially in comparison to some - and that my gripes over having to go to a second pharmacy to get my medication and my whining over the stress of planning a wedding were simply ludicrous. And yes, my daughter was far away but she was coming back home eventually and oh - none of us had to spend the night in a shelter or wonder where our next meal was coming from.
For the record, I went into the grocery store and bought 4 cold bottles of water in a reusable bag, plus a 20 dollar grocery store gift card and walked out of the store to bring it over to the gentleman with the sign. I was in the store for all of 5 minutes. When I came out to cross the parking lot - he was gone.
The fact that he disappeared only solidifies what I already believe - that the man was put in my path on that day to teach me a lesson, and not so I could help him with a few bucks and a couple of bottles of water.
In that moment I prayed. I thanked God for the much needed lesson. I thanked Him for humbling me by having a homeless man help me that day instead of the other way around. And I promised that I wouldn't forget the lesson - which is why I'm sharing it with you. Because I think it's a lesson we all need from time to time. I certainly did.
Image via Dave Schreier on Flickr