Posted: Friday, November 11, 2011 1:43 pm
By SHANE RICHARD BELL
Special to The Press
When you see someone on the streets with a cardboard sign, you can tell a lot about that person based on their words.
A request for a ride, a destination, a few lines from their story (‘Veteran, Single Mother, Without Work,’) or maybe even something comical. Whatever words make it onto that makeshift sign, they’re words of immense meaning to that person.
The other evening I saw a man with a sign that read, “Just a smile would be nice.” No request for a material good or plea for help, just a supplication of human contact. Little did I know that was exactly what he was asking for.
He stood on the corner of Appleway and Government Way. It was last Sunday night, around 8. As people took comfort in their homes on a biting November night, preparing for another Monday and week of responsibilities, he stood there alone, lit by the bright lights of fast food chains and traffic, with little but his sign, a coat, and a passing hope.
As we drove by, I immediately had the thought most everyone has in these situations: should we stop or not? Before I could say anything, my mother, sitting in the backseat, piped up, “Let’s stop. I’ll give him something.” Handing me a handful of money, my mother instructed me to pass it along to the man. I walked up to him and he said, “May I do something for you? I would like to sing you a song.” Here I am expecting only a simple “thank you,” and this complete stranger is wishing to sing me a song. I told him we’d all like to hear his song.
The man and I walked back to the car, and my mom began to roll down the window. Appearing from behind the glass was a big smile, exactly what the man wanted. It was the kind of smile that shows you who a person really is. His song reflected his situation and emotions, telling us that “all he had was today,” and that “he couldn’t go on another day.” Continuing to sing, he stared right at my mom as tears fell from his eyes, revealing a deep and hollow sadness. Clutched in his hands, the money we’d given him fell like dead leaves from a weathered tree, a tree preparing to survive another winter.
Finishing his song, he said, “I can’t do this anymore; I can’t hang on like this.” Tears again rolled down his jawbone, exposing vibrant grayish-blue eyes with long eyelashes. With each breath, his chest shuddered under the cold. The man looked like he couldn’t bear another day of life’s hardships. Again, I was speechless, but my mother was not. Getting out of the car, she pulled the desperate man into a warm embrace. She told him that it would be OK.
She then clasped his hands in hers, and prayed a simple prayer. “God, we know you are always here and that you never forget us,” she said. “Please help this man tonight. Amen.” It was love, the kind of love God has for every person- selfless and pure. I stood in awe, filled with hope for people and grateful for such a wonderful example of love in my life. It demonstrated to me that love is taking action, no matter what a person is going through.
In that moment, he wasn’t homeless, and we weren’t the passers-by. We were just humans. It was the moment when we all forget about where we come from and what we have, and realize our own raw humanity, our need for one another, and the unparalleled power of love.
I witnessed true love that night. That moment was about the love we show each other, and why it’s the most important pursuit we have in life. Nothing I could say or do in this life would affect another person to the extent that this kind of love expressed. These are the moments I long to live for, and they are moments that can never be born out of judgment, criticism, or money, but only love.