The Unlikely Samaritan
I recently paid a visit to a local laundromat located in a small shopping plaza just on the fringe of downtown. While unloading the laundry from my car I was alarmed by a pan-handler who was sitting on the ground just outside the laundromat uttering incoherently, reaching out for money and startling people as they passed by. He was disheveled and somewhat dirty, and most certainly impaired; which I immediately assumed was from drugs, alcohol, or both. I anxiously gathered up my laundry and scurried past him and through the door of the laundromat, purposely turning my head to the goings on just 10 feet from me on the sidewalk.
Already putting it out of my mind, I stuffed my laundry into a washer, reached into my bag of quarters and loaded up the machine. Instead of sitting around I decided to make good use of my time and visit the health food store around the corner to grab some of my favorite seed bars. Not wanting to carry a bag of quarters around in my pocket I decided to put them in my car. As I exited the laundromat I realized that the pan-handler was still there; but with no current pedestrian activity to stimulate him, he had quieted down. Still, a feeling of dread came over me realizing that I'd have to walk past him in close proximity to get to the store. As I headed toward my car I could hear him quietly mumbling incoherently to himself. I stood fumbling around in front of my car attempting to pull a couple of dollars in quarters out of the bag for the dryer without accidently dumping them all over the ground; all the while, my back to him. Suddenly the mumbling turned to concise words as he began yelling "Ma'm! Ma'm! MA'M!! Here! Take this! MA'M!" Thinking he was up to something I DID NOT want to turn around, but he continued on, "Ma'm, please! Here you go, take it!"
What happened next blew my mind and has impacted me for life. I turned around and saw that this person I initially assumed to be a doped up street thug was sitting on the ground handing me a fistful of dollar bills! He must've thought I didn't have the right change for the laundry, and was offering me what probably took him all morning to collect. Dumbfounded I told him to keep it and that I didn't need it (which I had to repeat several times because of his insistence). At that moment, my sense of dread did an about face and I found myself feeling WARMTH and COMPASSION instead of fear.
I then walked past him on my way to the store, and as I listened to him mumbling I realized that this was NOT drugs, but rather some form of mental impairment. I was overcome with emotion and literally beat myself up mentally the entire time I was in the store. Who the hell am I to make assumptions about anyone? And what gives me the right to impulsively pass judgment on a fellow human being, regardless of their circumstance? Feeling very ashamed of my narrow-mindedness, I grabbed my seed bars, checked out, and made my way back. Just around the corner, there he was; my unlikely Samaritan, sitting on the ground against a concrete column and mumbling incoherently; lost his own disheveled thoughts. I approached him and said "Hello sir, I just wanted to come over and say thank you for offering me money for the laundromat. That was very kind of you and I want you to know it didn't go unnoticed." Not knowing whether I was reaching him or not, I reached into my bag, pulled out a bar, and handed it him, and as I did, a huge, semi-toothless smile overtook his face, and he looked up at me and said "God bless you." I stood there chatting with him for a few minutes, and even though I couldn't really understand him he was most affable, most gracious, and much nicer than most people you meet on the street. He never asked me for a thing, and as I walked away I said "Sir, you take care of yourself, okay?" and shaking his head yes, he shouted back "God loves you!" and I disappeared into the laundromat. On my way out, laundry in tow, he was no longer there; but while loading my stuff back into the car I heard from a distance "Thank you! God loves you!" By then, he had moved down the sidewalk to escape the sun. I yelled back to him "thank you sir! You are loved too!" and I got in my car and drove off. This encounter will stay with me forever.
In hindsight, I think this was a serendipitous reminder that we are all capable of being awful, and impulsively passing judgment on perfectly imperfect people; and we are also all capable of being beautiful, caring, and loving; and we get to choose our behavior every day when we crawl out of bed. There is a beauty and a beast in all of us, and on that day I was clearly the beast; but when touched by the inner beauty of an unlikely Samaritan, this beast was forever transformed.
Be kind. Please support your local efforts against homelessness. We are all worthy of a chance at peace, safety, and security no matter whether our circumstances are self-inflicted or not. Remember, it only takes one beautiful act of kindness at a time to change the world.