An Essay By John E. Robinson, Kansas
The Homeless Man
The memories we carry with us often surface at the strangest times. While talking to my granddaughter, Ashton, she recalled an event we shared when she was five years old. Since her Mom, my daughter, worked 24-hour shifts as a paramedic, Ashton became my sidekick. We spent those days together doing whatever. On this hot sunny day as we walked along in front of the stores of a strip mall, sitting on the kerb was a homeless man holding a dog and a cardboard sign that read “Hungry, will work for food.” I was always a sucker for anyone needing help. I guessed him to be my age, tattoos, leaning against his worn backpack, arm around his dog. He was a little tattered from living on the street, his beard scraggly. But if you looked closer you could see that he was neatly kept. Nobody was stopping to offer help. I could see in the man’s eyes how dejected, tired and worn out he felt.
I took out my wallet and extracted a ten dollar bill. Ashton knew right away what I was doing. “Can I take it to him, Papa”. I handed her the money and stood as she walked over to the man and, with a big smile, handed him the bill. The man was startled, stood up, took the money, smiled, bowed and said “Thank you very much young lady.” Good I thought as we began to walk on, at least he’ll have a hot meal tonight.
Just then an older woman blocked our path. She wagged her finger at me and said “You shouldn’t give money to derelicts like him. He’ll probably use it to buy drugs.” She shot a stern look at Ashton and walked on.
“Papa, his dog looks so hot and that man was really nice, why was that lady so mean?” I told Ashton to go back and tell him to stay there, we would be right back. I saw the man was surprised but he nodded in agreement.
We walked to the big pet superstore. I told Ashton “He has to be able to carry it around with him in his backpack.” We got a basket and settled on our purchases - a bag of dog food, a flavoured chew-toy shaped like a bone, a water dish, bacon flavoured dog treats, a six-pack of bottled water and some people snacks.
Walking back to where we had left him, there he sat patiently waiting. Still nobody else was stopping for him. As we walked up to him Ashton had a prideful smile on her face as she handed him two plastic bags,
I looked into his eyes and saw something that startled me. I saw tears. He was fighting like a little boy to hold back his tears. How long had it been since anyone had shown this man kindness, I wondered? I told him I hoped it wasn’t too heavy for him to carry while Ashton showed him what we had brought. He stood there like a child at Christmas and I felt like our small contributions were terribly inadequate. When she took out the water dish he took it out of Ashton’s hands as if it were gold. He said he had no way to give his dog water before. He quickly set it down and filled it with water from a bottle. He stood up and looked directly into my eyes. “Man, I don’t know what to say.” He put both hands on his head and just started to cry. This man, this ‘scary’ man, was so gentle, so thankful and so humble.
I smiled at him, he smiled at Ashton. Then I noticed a US Marine Corps tattoo on his arm, with the word Vietnam under it. This man was a veteran.
As we walked away he was on his knees, arms around his dog, being licked all over his face, and smiling.
As we got into my pick-up truck, Ashton climbed into her car seat and buckled herself in. She looked at me and in her sweetest little girl voice said “Papa, I feel so good.”
Although it seemed like we had helped him, the man with the little dog and marine corps tattoo gave us a gift that neither Ashton or I ever forgot. He taught us that no matter what the outside looks like, inside each of us is a human being, deserving of kindness, compassion and acceptance.
To this day, whenever Ashton sees someone in need she always helps. Now my granddaughter is passing on that lesson to her two daughters, my great granddaughters, and I couldn’t be prouder.