Our winter season is alternating between beautiful sunlit days and the fog filled gray skies I wake to this morning. The air is still misty from the overnight rain and as I drive to the grocery store to pick up a few items, the shining wet streets look like slick black ribbons. Few cars are on the road at this early hour but as I slow to stop for the red light at the big Wal-Mart intersection I see standing on the median an old man wearing a shabby pea coat and holding a hand-printed sign.
Begging in the rain is a tough occupation; no benefits nor medical insurance, no overtime or days off. You can, however, make your own hours. It is not a job that I would want. I press the button that rolls down the window and pass a dollar bill to him. His face is gray and needs shaven, his eyes barely meet mine as he takes the money, stuffs it in his pocket and turns away.
The light turns green and as I leave I am reminded of another man I encountered last summer. I was driving through the drop-off at the local post office and saw sitting on the grass under the shade of a small tree four young children. Their father stood a little apart from them and was holding a sign reading, “Will work for food. Please help.”
My throat tightened. I waved to the man to come over and hesitantly handed him a bill. When he saw it was five dollars, his eyes got large, looked directly into mine and filled with tears. “Thank you, thank you,” he said, his head bobbing up and down and his hand quickly and gently touching the back of mine.
As I drove away my heart was filled with gratitude that I had been prompted to give five rather than the one dollar that was my norm. In contrast to other times I had not thought how glad I was not to be in that situation myself; this time I did not feel spiritual.
In this meeting of our eyes the man and I shared a moment of communion. It was a soul greeting that said we both understood what it was to be a parent of children who depended on us and for whom we would do anything – even beg or steal – to keep them safe. The man and I were accomplices in the Game of Generosity in which the giver and the receiver were one and the same.
There was a great joy in my heart that day that I have never forgotten. Now when I hand an offering through the window, I look carefully to see if anyone might be looking too.