By Delbert H. Rhodes
As I exit the highway and drive down the off ramp, the stoplight cycles to red. The day is bright with a little sun, and I have enjoyed my workout. I did a little shopping, I rarely purchase much. I am alone.
I look forward to a steaming shower, and then relaxing to quiet music and a bite to eat. Probably I would tune in Nora Jones, and Phoebe Snow and then Ray LaMontagne. These balladeers serve to soothe my aching soul though they turn my emotions upside down. Behind me traffic has not begun to buildup; and seemingly, the traffic light wants to keep me on the off ramp, for a while.
Therefore, I sit thinking, touching my thoughts saddens me. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is uncertain. Today, something (nearby) distracts me, reshapes my mindset.
A poor man sits on the guardrail to my left. He holds a sign bearing words of need. The man is dirty, and greasy, his hair hangs limply about his head, and his clothing could benefit from a good washing.
“I NEED MONEY FOR FOOD,” reads the words, the sign dangling from a weary hand and arm. Sitting in my car, and appearing insulated and protected, privately, I (too) feel the sad man’s pain, his (diminished) prideful plea for help. I too know the pangs of hunger, I have been there, I too share his pain, suffering, and desolation.
After all: who are we to believe that these things live (so) far away; any moment circumstances could deliver changes too hurtful to dare to consider: too destructive to allow us, life.
Yes, the man and I are different people; but, and unknowingly to him, we share the broken ladders of life and the fall of fate. Today, he is on public display, and depending, tomorrow, it could be my turn. Pitiful as the man’s situation is, does pity actually benefit anyone, and how does it aid the needy? Most times, and truly, pity is self-serving. This mechanism is selfish, serving only to hurt the help.
This man cries for aid, how he obtains it is out of my control. I wonder what I would do if I were he, and could/would I survive the streets. Quickly and confidently, notwithstanding criminality, I feel that I would meet the challenges. Naturally, this would be a life, and style strange to me though one I think about, daily.
“The words written on the man’s cardboard sign are scripted in magic marker. They touch me; compel me, to act, to help. Though I could do little, still, I call to him. The stoplight threatening green, the tired man makes his way to my car. I ask, “Is this real?” “Are you (really) hurting?”
“My twenty-dollar bill feeds a hungry hand. The man looks into my eyes saying, “God Bless You.”
I say, “Good luck brother,” as he backs away.
Is he truly a vagabond, is this a guise, a trick to separate money from the (feeling) public-maybe. More importantly, this is a situation any of us could suffer, one day, any day, even, today. The gift is easy to give, the sentiments are true, his cry for help, real, (enough). I wish him well.
In life and sometimes: situations serve to test our hearts and minds; these beg us to consider the reconsiderations, and then hand us brief moments to act-or not. Sometimes our choices leave us wanting to replay the scenes; but unlike Hollywood movies, or sporting events, there is no Director crying, “CUUUUT!” Or, a Newsman chanting, “Let’s go to the video tape!” No, the moments are entrusted to us, and we decide the endings.
Over whining engines and street noises, the man calls to me, ‘I’m out here, I’m homeless.'”
I could not help wondering of his part in the play. What had he done or failed to do? Or was it simply a twist of fate, life’s roulette wheel spinning out of control. The misfortunate man’s name chosen by the wheel’s whirl of chance. Then from where or whom came the ear shattering cheers borne by the winners? For, to such an end how does or could anyone win?
Peering into the man’s sorrow, while he drapes the metal guardrail, I reply, “I understand, I’m not far from you.” The traffic resumes its flow and streams across the intersection.
Looking over at the man, who, seemingly, is left to abandonment, paints an unpleasant image. The visage shrouds me in a clammy embrace. For this is not a sweet delicious imprint.
Preferably, and arguably by some: this is something to cover with canvas, cloaking social stain, hiding (any) political implication.
Does this man and others like him, speak to outcry national economic failure, and world market greed?
Uncertain of my words, the man cordially nods and gestures in acknowledgement. I stare into his eyes, I want him to know that I see him; his sentiments are received and appreciated.
Slowly, my car negotiates the tight left turn, its bumper inches away from the guardrail blocking the abutment. The careful maneuver permits the vehicle to the left safe passage into its lane. Seemingly, my car acts automatically, as though it has memory, a human chip. One moment of caution renders a lifetime of care.
I pass beneath the elevated highway to the Newburgh Beacon Bridge. In northbound traffic, my car gets a wind wash. Probably, I should take a drive often, this way the car stays clean. These days, car care is not at the top of my ‘must do’ list.
Ever so slightly, I turn to see the driver in the left lane. The man shifts in his seat a little, but never returns a glance. He does not seem to notice my scrutiny of him. This man drives without distraction, or so it appears.
Sometimes I sneak peek drivers, though I never intend intrusion, I do this because of the moment, the need to make everything and every person real. Did you ever consider the number of people you bypass without (even) looking at them? Doing it differently “sometimes” makes a difference, changing moments and lives.
I return to thoughts of home and rest. Still, the face of the broken man remains in my mind; he seems as someone from my past, from, earlier wars. His apparel bore the symbols of the United States Military. Truly, was he a Soldier?
If so, then, subsequent to serving his Country, and fighting its Wars, was the man abandoned? Is he without assistance from the U.S. Veterans Administration? Should someone who possibly served heroically, slowly, inhumanely, experience what is an unpardonable and demoralizing death; and as he is publicly displayed, is this man yet, not another living reminder of American Shame?
Though clarity hangs in a misty fog, one absolute exists, in another time, in a future time, possibly, this man could be me.
He could be, you.
Copyright 2012 Delbert H. Rhodes