He held a sign. It caught my attention immediately upon seeing it.
“Please help. I have a wife, a daughter, son, and baby. I need work.”
His clothes were obviously worn. His beard ragged. His hair uncomely, long, and greasy. A few tattoos stood out on his arms and another on his neck; the apparent signs of a previously misguided youth.
A lady stood nearby. She had the same unkempt physical appearance. Her dress lacked any hint of proper cleaning or ironing for months. She held a baby and smiled sweetly at two children playing in the dirt at the base of a tree.
The sign caught my attention. The beggar’s appearance, and the appearance of his young family, convinced me of their plight. However, neither of these burned the experience into my memory.
I watched as cars stopped, drivers observe the man and his family, then make the decision to ignore them. Their windows rolled up, music blared louder from the stereos, and eyes defiantly focused on the road ahead.
‘How can these be the same people who clamored to help in Houston,’ I thought.
Only weeks earlier I witnessed my fellow Texans put their lives on hold to help the citizens of Houston, which had been devastated by a hurricane. They came from all over the state. They brought food and water for the newly homeless, clothes and blankets for the naked, vans for safe passage out of the area, and boats to help in search and rescue. I witnessed an admonition of, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.”
As I sat in my car, inching towards the homeless family at the stop sign, I witnessed something completely different. I witnessed these same Texans that had sacrificed so much for people living hundreds of miles away turn their back on the poor and needy in their own backyard. What separated this man and his family from those who had lost their home in the hurricane?
As if in an instant, I reflected on the hard financial times I experienced as a young husband and father. I knew the burden of responsibility such a role entailed. I knew the feeling of failure when, despite all my efforts, I could not provide for all the comforts of my family. I knew the bitterness that builds when so many seem to turn their backs.
I came within five feet of the man and began rummaging through my car. I searched for any change I could muster. If I had a job to offer, I knew I would hire him instantly. Unfortunately, I did not. The least I could do was give him what little physical cash I had in the car.
When I rolled down my window, I noticed the look of surprise on his face. When I offered the money to him, I noticed the look of surprise turn into relief. His relief could not cover the worry that lurked in the corners of his eyes, but the gratitude shown in his smile.
I looked beyond him and to his wife. She pressed her hands together and bowed several times to me, mouthing the words ‘thank you’ and ‘God bless’. I nodded back, waved at the kids, and offered my hand to the man. His grip on mine was firm. I felt his callouses, something I was familiar with from years of construction work.
“Stay strong, brother,” I said. He nodded. I, then, drove on.