For years, my elderly mother’s routine after church is to have lunch with her friends at their favorite restaurant; and every week I arrive at the same time to pick her up. The restaurant is not in the best part of town, so there’s always a character or two hanging around the entrance hoping to score the exiting diners’ pocket change. And I always do my best to shuffle my mom quickly to the car so as not to be pestered with the unwanted requests.
I have memories of a man I saw for several months of Sunday’s. He was sitting in a wheelchair, each time blocking the sidewalk the diners used to and from the restaurant. I often saw him mumbling something as people passed by, but with the usual response, people would look down or away, just preferring not to be bothered. But on a few occasions, I did see the man sitting with a white Styrofoam container on his lap – I assume someone’s leftovers or a meal that had been purchased for him.
One Sunday I arrived to pick up my mom, and the only place to park was right in front of the man in the wheelchair. Once again he had placed himself in the middle of the sidewalk, so I resigned myself to the fact that our paths would indeed have to cross for the briefest of moments. As I exited my car, my first thought was – I hope he doesn’t ask me for money.
Nevertheless, I readied myself with a few “good deed” dollars and quickly tried to scoot around him. But just as I dreaded, I heard him mumble something to me as I passed by. I couldn’t in good conscience be rude and just ignore him, so I turned and said, “What was that, sir?”
The man was filthy – unshaven, smelled of poor hygiene, open wounds – an obvious depiction of months or years on the streets. As I hesitated, he looked at me and said, “My name is Bob.” I politely offered a pleasantry, “It’s nice to meet you, Bob”, followed quickly with my reason for immediate departure, “But I need to go inside to get my mom.”
His next comment made it impossible for me to simply brush off the encounter. “I’m dying”, he said with a falter in his voice. I honestly didn’t know what to say to Bob in that moment. He wasn’t seeking a handout or sympathy, he was just sincerely sharing from the very depths of his tattered spirit.
I looked into his eyes now filling with tears, and spoke the only words that came to mind, “Well, Bob, if you are dying, tell God you want to be with Him when you go.” He immediately dropped his head, covered his face with his dirty hands, and sorrowfully said, “Please don’t do that to me.”
I knew immediately he wasn’t asking me not to “preach” at him. Instead, I sensed he couldn’t believe that a better life after this was something he deserved or could believe in.
“Bob,” I said, stooping a bit to meet his eyes, “there’s nothing you’ve done that can keep God from loving you. And He wants you to be with Him in eternity.”
As soon as I said those words, I looked up to see my mom shuffling out of the restaurant on her own. Torn, I now had to tell Bob that I really did need to go get my mom. But before I could step away, he asked, “What’s your name?” I told him, “Renee.” Then he reached out for my hand. Reluctantly obliging, I gave him my hand and he kissed it and said, “Thank you, Renee.”
After settling my mom in the car, and before I got in to go, I said to the forgotten man in the wheelchair, “Remember to pray Bob. God’s waiting for you.” To which he nodded and raised a hand to say good-bye.
I never saw Bob again. I don’t know if he moved on to another location or took his last breath on this side of eternity. But I do know that my path crossed Bob’s for a reason that day. Maybe it was to ease his fear of dying, or maybe just to let him know that God loved him no matter what. But I can honestly say that one day when I make it to the “other side”, I hope to meet and shake hands with Bob, healed, whole, and happy.
In this time of great despair in our world, it’s difficult to know how we can help. Certainly, there are those situations where personal involvement is not wise or safe or advised. But each one of us has the opportunity to say a small prayer on behalf of those we encounter. We can ask God to reassure hurting hearts of His love, and ask Him to reach into bruised spirits with guidance toward a better tomorrow. And as we pray, I am confident God will send His angels to minister to those broken “Bobs” who are longing for hope.