It was really cold here in south central Kentucky this morning, somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees making it my favorite temp for running. I dressed in my high tech running clothes that are engineered to keep me warm but still wick the sweat away from my skin. I laced up my shoes that I reserve only for running. I stretched, got my I-pod, blue-tooth earbuds and my dog. We drove just over a mile to the recreation center where I park when running in town and off we went.
As Bella, my Labradoodle, and I were driving home I turned onto Bourne Avenue and I spotted a man kneeling on the corner of the sidewalk with his bottom atop of his feet. His head was bowed down and his cardboard sign was face down in front of him. He could have been praying but most likely was trying to conserve as much body heat as possible while resting his weary bones.
I am ashamed to admit that there have been times that I would have felt bad for him but continued on my journey. Today I couldn’t do that. I had already pulled into the parking lot when I remembered that I not only didn’t have my purse with me but I also didn’t have my phone since I didn’t want the cold to drain the battery. Maybe it was the childhood lesson about not talking to strangers; but I initially hesitated to approach him directly. Between me and the man kneeling at the corner some 50 yards away was a man pumping gas into his SUV and I approached him instead.
“I am wondering if we should call someone for this man”, I started, “ I hate that he is out here like this in the cold. I don’t have my phone with me.” The man explained that he did not have his phone with him either but suggested I ask the store owner. Maybe he really didn’t have his phone, maybe he didn’t want to be involved. I probably didn’t look overly trustworthy myself with my red cheeks and hair standing on end where I had just pulled off my ear warming headband.
I went into the store and talked to the owner about the situation and asked if perhaps he could call the police so that the man might get help. The store owner was nice enough to me but seemed rather perturbed about the man at the corner. “Is he out there again? I have told him not to be there.”
I stepped back outside and decided that I could not just drive off. It was full daylight, I didn’t have anything like a purse for him to grab or steal from me and it’s a small town. I decided to not be afraid. That’s right, I decided to not be afraid of him hurting me in someway, or someone else driving by and wondering why I was talking to the man, I even decided to not fear that he might follow me back to my locked car where my dog patiently waited for me in the backseat.
He did not look up as I approached.
“Sir”, I asked, “Are you ok, is there someone I could call for you?”
My questions were ridiculous. He could have responded with, “Do I look ok to you? or “Yeah, call Ghostbusters”. He cast his eyes up at me and I saw that He was younger than I expected and beneath the smudges on his face he was a nice looking man. It is possible that he is some kind of addict but he didn’t look the part. He simply stated, “I’m hungry”.
He quickly went on to say more about how he wanted to find work but people were not helping him. “I just need something to eat, maybe a fudge round. I can work for it”
The man before me was truly hungry and he wasn’t asking me for $10, or to buy his groceries or pay his bills, he was hoping for one fudge round that cost about 20 cents.
I explained that I didn’t have any money on me because I had just finished running but that I only lived about mile away and that I could go home and get food for him and come right back. He told me the food had to be sealed up because people had tried to poison him or give him food that they had spit on. I realized that might be true or it might be an indicator that he suffers from mental illness, either way I felt a sense of urgency in getting him food.
I promised I would come right back. “Five minutes”, I told him. As I turned to go back to the car he called out, “My feet are really cold, if you have some socks”
At home I didn’t close the garage door and left the car running. Inside I grabbed a plastic bag and tossed in an unopened jar of peanut butter, a bag of animal crackers, a bottle of water and a spoon. I opened my sock drawer and right on top were my expensive, thick wool socks that I had bought to wear with my hiking boots. I started to dig deeper in the drawer and thought better of it. I stuffed the socks into the bag knowing he needed them much more than I did.
He was still there. I gave him the bag and when he looked inside he exclaimed, “Peanut butter!” You would have thought it was a hundred dollar bill from the appreciation in his voice. “Socks, too!’ The man stood up but I certainly didn’t feel threatened. He told me he sleeps in the woods. I don’t know, but I imagine he has constructed some sort of makeshift shelter.
I encouraged him to walk to the Outreach Center a block away and told him they could probably offer more help.
He looked at me and said, “You are the only one out of thousands that helped. God made me just like he made them, but you are the only one that helped. The only difference in me and them is that I haven’t had a shower.” My heart went out to him, I couldn’t smell him but he was clearly concerned about his hygiene. I imagined how frustrated I would feel if I didn’t have a way to take care of such basic needs. “You should feel good about what you did.” he called out as he started to walk in the direction of the Outreach Center.
I am glad that I helped him out though it was in a small way. I can’t say I feel good about it. Tomorrow he may be hungry again and face more heartless people. Mother Teresa said, “We can’t all do great things but we can do small things with great love.”
It isn’t going to be as cold tonight but the wind has decided to blow fiercely. I need to replenish my supply of peanut butter. I like to share it because of it’s good shelf life and nutrition. Maybe I need to buy more socks too. I don’t have any hiking planned in the near future but if a person needs peanut butter there is a good chance they could use the socks too.
Stay warm and be well my friends
Written on a cold morning in February 2019