Today I saw another homeless person, huddled in an old beat-up car with his sleeping dog. It took me back to four years ago, when I exchanged a glance with a weather beaten man traipsing up the highway. Here's a blog entry I made in April 2005 at my Macromoments blog, titled "The Glance."
While waiting for the gas station attendant to fill my tank, I pulled out a To Do list to add a note to myself. That's when I detected movement out of the corner of my eye, and glanced just in time to see a hunched-over man ambling up the road. He had the appearance of someone who'd been carrying a heavy backpack for years, someone who knew exactly when and how to shift the pain from one shoulder to another. In a strange sort of way, he seemed almost comfortable with his load.
I guessed he was around late fifties, with a face so weatherbeaten and leathery, it was hard to tell where the dirt ended and his tan began. Dressed in a tattered brown tweed coat and loose-fitting, camouflage pants, he marched to a cadence nobody else could hear. He'd wrapped a frayed scarf around his neck twice, in an attempt to ward off a strong south wind, but from his expression, it seemed the wind was winning. I wondered how many harsh winters he'd marched up other roads similar to this, on his way out of yet another town.
Gripping my pen through warm winter gloves, I felt a sudden twinge of guilt. My car was certainly warmer than any place he'd laid his head in recent days. But logic took over, and I began to reason away his pathetic situation. He has choices, like everyone else, I thought. Probably let drugs or alcohol ruin his life and lost it all.
I hated thinking such thoughts, but I didn't know where to mentally file vagabonds. Maybe he loved life on the road like the fellow in a recent newspaper interview. But what if he didn't? How was I to react to someone whose life was so distant, so out of synch with mine? Surely not like the woman in the Safeway parking lot one Thanksgiving, who plopped a raw turkey into a transient's rusty old cart, then mumbled, "Happy Holiday!"
The man glanced up to find me studying him. In the shadow of a floppy-brimmed hat, soft brown eyes stared back at me. This stranger with the hurried, hunched gait paused at my door to tip his hat and smile. It was like a scene straight out of an old western movie.
I smiled back. And you know what? For a quick moment, I felt a human connection that made me hold his glance a few seconds longer.
Then I looked away, mostly so he wouldn't see my tears. Dear Lord, this was somebody's baby boy! I didn't know whether I was praying or pitying him, but I know one thing: God felt very near.
Hadn't this transient entered the world kicking and squealing for attention? Hadn't someone wrapped him in a cozy blanket and welcomed him into their family? Didn't they cuddle him and coax him to speak his first word? Who was there to cheer him on as he took his first wobbly step? Did he have brothers? Sisters? Parents who loved viewing the world through his dancing brown eyes? Maybe...or maybe not.
God gazed at me through the eyes of that passing stranger, to pierce my apathetic heart. A single glance on a windy afternoon rolled back the years, to remind me of another moment in time when God first declared me lost, but loved me anyway.
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