November 20, 2017

Listen, I Know It Wasn't Safe.

I was driving home on a cold November evening, when I pulled up to a stoplight at a busy intersection. I saw a familiar face: a homeless man whom I've claimed as a friend of mine. His name is David.

He lives outside in our city, making the rounds in a 4-mile radius. He shows up in my McDonalds sometimes, when he has enough money for an ice cream cone. His mind fails him most days, and he comes in and out of lucidity. Sometimes he's shouting at the poor employees about the toilet paper situation inside McDonalds, and sometimes he's friendly and gentle and kind. I see him a couple of times a month, and something about this rough guy has wormed into my heart.

If you read Let's Pretend We're Normal, then you've met David, too. I wrote him into that book on the day when we saw him at McDonalds, after I had had a very difficult day of single parenting and I whisked the boys off for Happy Meals and Playlands. David sat nearby, and he struck up a conversation with Tucker about Heisman trophy winners.

My children were a little surprised by my open willingness to have a conversation with someone who looked so scary, and it was my opportunity to show them that kindness is a choice. As we cleared the table, David said to my boys, "Hey, you guys take good care of you mom, okay? And let me tell you this before you go… Rejoice in the Lord, always. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength." He had quoted Robb's life verse to us. And I felt like I had encountered a messenger straight from heaven.

David has been run hard in his lifetime, but he has things tucked safely into his mind: Heisman winners and the book of Philippians.

So on this cold night when I saw David standing on the sidewalk by the stoplight, I reached into my purse for a five dollar bill. I rolled down my window as I approached.

"This is for you, David," I said.

He looked up at the sound of his name. He walked over to me with his walker. "God bless you, ma'am. Do you think you could please give me a ride to that McDonalds over there?"

It was three blocks away. Across six lanes of traffic. The light had turned green. Cars around me were moving forward. But something about this rough guy has wormed into my heart. "Sure, David. Let's get you there."

I put on my emergency flashers, I opened the hatch of my SUV, and I lifted his walker into the back. It doesn't fold, so I laid it on its side. I helped him into the front seat, and I closed the door. The light turned from green, to yellow, to red again, and would you believe this? Nobody behind me blew the horn. Everyone was patient as I helped an old man into my car.

When I got in on the driver's side, David said, "Thank you, ma'am. When you rolled down your window, I thought it was Bette Midler herself."

Ah, my celebrity doppelganger makes an appearance once again. "My dad has always said I look like a young version of her," I said.

"The Rose," he said. "Just remember in the winter, far beneath the winter snow, lies the seed, that with the sun's love, in the spring becomes a rose."

"I love that song," I said, pulling through the intersection. "What can you tell me from Philippians?"

"Oh, you know Philippians? It's my favorite. Rejoice in the Lord, always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near."

"Where did you learn those verses?" I asked, merging toward McDonalds.

"Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Back in high school."

"Oh, yeah? And what was your sport?"

"Lots of them. Hockey. Baseball. Diving." I remembered that he was once a cliff diver at our famous Casa Bonita, but he doesn't remember telling me. He doesn't remember me at all, actually.

We pulled into McDonalds. I took the liberty of parking in the handicapped space by the door, since I'd be unloading his walker from the back. I met him on the passenger side, pushing the walker right up to the open door. "It'll take a me a few minutes," he said. "This broken hip takes some time."

"You take your time, my friend." I held his walker still so it didn't roll away.

"Where are you from?" he asked.

"Well, I'm originally from Ohio."

"Where?"

"Ohio," I repeated, thinking he hadn't heard me.

"Yes, what part of Ohio?"

"The Akron-Canton area."

"Ah, the Football Hall of Fame."

"Yes, sir."

"And Firestone Golf Course."

"You're familiar with the area, then."

"I was a golf caddy for the Golf Tournament there, 1994-2002."

(I was waiting tables at TGI Friday's that week in 2001. Considerable tips for waiting tables when the PGA tour is in town.)

I held the door open as he came inside. "What can I buy you for dinner, David?"

"Oh, you don't have to do that."

"But if I did, what would you like?"

"A chicken sandwich, please."

"Done. You get settled in at your table."

I bought him the sandwich, and I slipped in a gift card for next time. I carried it to his table.

"Here you go, my friend," I said, setting his meal on the table, thinking of the verses I know about offering a glass of water in the name of Jesus.

"Let me tell you one more before you go," he said. "Colossians 3. Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is. Seated at the right hand of God."

"That's one of my favorites, David. I'm glad I saw you tonight."

"See you later, Akron. "

I laughed. "My name is Trish, by the way."

"I'll call you Bette," he said.

"Deal. See you later, my friend."

 

Like I said, I know it wasn't safe to load a homeless man and his walker into my car on a cold November night. And neither my parents nor Peter were thrilled to hear the update.

But it was only for three blocks.  And it was David.

12 comments on “Listen, I Know It Wasn't Safe.”

  1. I picked up a woman once on a snowy day; on my way to work with the children in the back car ( little at the time). I was so moved to do it. Lead if you will. I was only going to take her "so far"....but then she told me of her situation that lead to her being on the road walking in the snow at 8AM. Abuse, wrong choices etc. Her home was miles away. I "happened" to be going that way for work. I took her to her home. As a home visitor/ social worker; I just did..... Looking back later that day, I thought that it may have not been so smart to pick her up with the children in the car and then go to the sitter - then take her home on my way to work. But I did. God kept us safe. I felt led to pick her up and take her home. Had not thought of that day in a long time. Sometimes, we need to follow the spirit, and trust that protection and provision will ensue. Blessings....to all.....

  2. Tricia, I wrote to you a while back, after losing my husband, about my angelic encounter with an older gentleman with dementia in grocery store that spoke directly to my daughter and me. He knew things about us he couldn't have known. I still see Jim in the grocery store when I go and he doesn't remember me, but delights in my knowing him and calling him by name.
    I am known for interacting with people most folks don't even notice. I laughed at the part where your family wasn't thrilled that you had given David a ride. I know that well. My late husband and kids have warned me or told me all of the ways a situation could have gone badly when I have helped strangers. I think you and I are alike in that we are observant and willing. Not everyone Is! Some of these strangers are now regular guests at our Thanksgiving table.

  3. I love this Tricia. Thanks for reminding us to reach out to those in need like this. I love that you not only fed David, but spent time talking and giving value to him as a child of God. You've encouraged me to try to do this same, instead of hurrying off with my carefully planned life.

  4. Last evening, a friend of mine who suffers badly from depression and anxiety, told me about meeting a man on a local street the other night. She knew it wasn't the wisest thing to approach the man, who looked miserable, but the Lord put it into her heart to do so. She asked him if he was all right, and they ended up speaking for twenty minutes. As they parted, he told her that he was suffering from bone cancer, and when she said she'd pray for him, he responded in kind. It was a blessing to him for her to approach him, and it was a blessing for her to realize that although her approach wasn't necessarily witness to him, it was perhaps exactly what he needed. She touched his arm as she turned to go, something she normally never would do. Sometimes that's all we can do for a fellow traveler - a kind voice and a sympathetic ear, the knowledge that no matter how desperate your straits, someone else out there sees you and your heart. Sometimes that's all we need.

  5. You have a beautiful heart and a friend for life. David may not remember you each time you have an encounter with him but I think he is truly grateful for you and a very harmless homeless man.
    I love who you are and your heart to help others.

  6. Thank you for sharing this story; it's what we should all be doing in some way for "the least (!!) of these." Doing the right thing sometimes involves risk. I think it is wonderful that you have a link to this man.

  7. Awwww! That is so tender and heart warming. I always had "my" homeless guy when I worked downtown. I knew his favorite meal and brought it to him often on the side of I25 and 20th. It's great to be reminded of how blessed we are and how much we have to be thankful for. 🙂

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