Mined from the notebooks, Tuesday, October 16, 2018.
Other day on our way home from the movies, we were stopped at a light where a homeless guy was working his way up the line of stopped cars asking for money. We were fourth or fifth in line and by the time he reached us I had the window down and a dollar waiting.
“God bless you!” he said, looking me square in the eye and smiling broadly and as if I was the one receiving the kindness, which, according to the nuns back at St Helen’s, I was. God, the sisters would have said, was giving me the gift of opening my heart along with my wallet.
He was in his mid or late thirties, thin but not emaciated or gaunt. His beard was short and trimmed. His clothes weren’t noticeably ragged or dirty. He looked fairly neat and clean. If he wasn’t on a street corner with his hand out you might not take him for what he was. But there was that gleam in his eyes and a note of suppressed hysteria in his voice. I was impressed however by his good nature. There was no apology or embarrassment in his demeanor or expression. No belligerence or expectation either. He was ready to take what he could get even if it was nothing. I was more impressed by his meeting my eye. He was seeing me. Making a point of seeing me and taking me in as me---that is, as a person with a life and business apart from out what was essentially a commercial transaction.
This is a sensible business practice on his part. Looking the people he’s asking for money in the eye, he’s forcing us to look into his. We have to see him and see him as him, a particular person, as a fellow human being. It becomes harder to look away. Harder to ignore him. Harder to will him into invisibility. And so harder to turn him down. Harder not to give him more money than we intended.
So I saw him and he saw me, and what each saw was…
A fellow baseball fan.
In seeing me he saw the insignia on my sweatshirt.
Nice, huh? Uncle Merlin sewed this for me back before he was a laundry detergent manufacturer and had his embroidery business.
“God bless you!” my fellow baseball fan said cheerfully. Then he added, his smile growing wider and friendlier but also gaining mischief. “God bless you, even though you’re a Red Sox fan!”
I had to laugh. “Who are you rooting for?”
“The Yankees of course!” His turn to laugh. “Too late now!”
I wanted to give him another for that, his good sportsmanship. But he’d already moved on up the line to the car behind ours, and the light changed.