The 7/11 was a little out of my way. But I had made an odd turn at a previous light, headed across town, and now the only thought in my brain at the point when the sign loomed ahead of me at the red light was “caffeine. now.”
I parked and looked at my watch. I had 10 minutes to be back on the road. I stepped up onto the sidewalk, dropped my keys into my purse and looked up…and I froze inside.
Whispering curses under my breath for my bad luck, I mentally prepared to sidestep the pair of homeless men who sat on the ground between me and the doorway that led to that blessed giver-of-caffeine machine. I moved myself as close to the curb as I could and set my eyes straight ahead, already praying that they would be put off by my “sense of purpose” walk. I was far enough away that someone else passed them first and yet close enough to hear the familiar question.
“Can you spare any change? We just want to get something to eat.”
Right. You want food.
The moment came when I had to pass thru their space, so I tightened my face and sped up my determined steps…only to be internally tripped up when the voice changed to a familiar, silky tone as it was directed my way.
I turned to look at them and found myself dumbfounded.
Both horribly filthy, they were huddled close together, the one on the left leaning his shoulder onto his partner. He seemed annoyed at the interruption of my presence and stared at his friend, as if waiting for an answer to a question I didn’t hear. But I didn’t care that I had stopped their conversation, if there had been one, as my eyes were locked on the man on the right.
His hair was matted around his head and his jacket was black and not just from the grime. He wore a sweater that had probably been a nice cream cable-knit at some point, but now was faded down to a yucky brown. His hands were folded on his outstretched legs, like he was totally at ease here on the sidewalk outside the mecca of morning coffee. All of that, my mind took in in an instant…but that wasn’t what made me mentally stumble in my mission-oriented pace. No…my mind absorbed the position and clothing of his body while my heart was totally dead-locked by the look on his face.
Like he knew why I was walking like I was.
Like he knew what I was thinking about the homeless men in my way.
Like he knew…me.
I didn’t stop walking, but I slowed enough to make eye contact and I mumbled something equally as friendly in response to his greeting.
“Morning. I don’t have any cash.”
He chuckled softly and said it was ok, but he never broke eye-contact…at least, not until I did when I reached the door of the store.
It wasn’t until I was fully inside that I realized I was holding my breath. I let myself exhale and I walked towards that machines of energizing liquids and chose my cup. But as the fluid slowly reached the top, I shook my head against the fact that I was internally rattled by the exchange.
I grabbed my cup, sealed it with a lid and walked over to grab a breakfast-on-the-go wrapped goodie. Settling on a choice, I started towards the cashier…but was once again stopped as I remember the way he had looked at me. I knew I didn’t know him. At all. But he seemed to know me…and that got to me in a way I can’t really put into words.
I turned around and grabbed two large, wrapped muffins. I made towards the front again but realized that they couldn’t eat muffins without something to drink so I headed back towards the bottled drinks. I opened the door to the refrigerated case and stumbled again.
Do I get them juice? Water? Soda?
Settling on one juice and one water, I juggled the load in my arms as I stood in line, wondering why in the world it mattered what kind of drink I bought??
They are hungry and begging. They don’t care, stupid.
When it was my turn to check out, I asked the checker to only bag the stuff I got for the guys outside and I paid. At the door, I took a deep breath and walked outside.
They were still there, seated exactly as they were before, their conversation now resumed. I could tell it was deep, from the motions of the man on the left side, as if the one on the right was explaining the cosmic mysteries of black holes. But as the door moved to shut, it made a soft noise and the man on the right turned his head and, once again, leveled me with a gaze that seemed to expect me somehow.
Now that I had more time, I took him in.
Dark eyes on a very dirty face.
But somehow I didn’t see the dirt.
I only noticed that his were the friendliest set of eyes I have probably ever seen on a person I don’t know.
He had eyes that smiled even though his mouth was only set in a soft, relaxed state.
He took me in completely with them, so deeply that I once again held my breath and nearly stopped moving at all.
I walked over and held out my bag.
The man on the left uttered a sigh at being bothered by me again while the man on the right cocked a teasing eyebrow and reached for the sack.
“It’s just a couple of muffins. One blueberry and one chocolate. I wasn’t sure if you like water or juice so…um…yeah.”
He handed the white plastic bag over to the man on the left, who grumbled as he looked into it.
But still he stared…looked…penetrated me all the way to my heart.
I know the “Do I know you?” look registered on my face because he read my mind, smiled and slowly shook his head.
Again with the sweetie…
“You’re welcome. Um, ok, well…bye.”
My only answer was his continued smile as he leaned his head back against the wall behind him as his friend took a bite of the blueberry muffin.
I shuffled away, no longer concerned with what time it is or where I was going.
I looked back on my way to my car. The man on the left had gone back to talking, his head seemingly leaned onto the shoulder of his friend, looking up like he was waiting for an answer…but the man on the right was still looking at me.
No, he was looking straight thru me.
Smiling softly, I got in my car, started it and drove away, the mental evaluation now going full speed in my head.
I know that man.
No, I don’t…but I do…or he knew me.
Why wasn’t I afraid?
Why didn’t I get weirded out?
Why did he call me sweetie?!?!
As that chatter flew around my mind, I remembered my mom talking about angels in disguise.
Was that who they were?
To see if I would feed them?
Heck, the one on the left didn’t even want me there.
But that other man…he knows me.
It almost felt like he was waiting for me.
Who was he??
I didn’t know.
I still have no clue what that whole thing was about and I have had months to ponder it in my heart and mind.
No, it made no sense at all…but there were three things I have been certain of ever since that encounter on the sidewalk outside a 7/11 on a Thursday morning:
1. In the most non-creepy way possible of a stranger, that man took in more than just my face while his eyes held mine in a familiar way…and I regret that I didn’t do the same.
2. I have never, ever wanted to go sit on the ground next to a homeless man more than I wish I had that morning…in fact, I am still a little angry at myself for driving away.
3. I can’t help but wonder if the aftermath of that encounter is anything like those who may have run into Jesus as He traveled with his disciples.
Looking up, as always…