“Can you give me an odd job or two? We had to evacuate from New Orleans for the hurricane and we’re stuck up here until I can get some money.” I watched his eyes as he spoke and they shifted rapidly from mine to look at the front door. “Liar!” I thought, as I deferred, thinking about all the extra work it would make for me to find him something that I could trust him to do. Making an excuse, I sent him on his way with a cursory “be warm and be fed”, realizing as he went out the door that I had failed miserably in my commission.
For a few moments, I was barely remorseful, having completed, just moments before, a conversation with a former social worker who blamed all of us rich folks for the problems in the country. His words still stung, despite the fact that many of them were spoken out of his ignorance. Many of mine were also.
This has been a week for opportunities. Tuesday evening, we had just completed our weekly pizza party with the grandchildren when the phone rang, with a friend in distress. She needed some help starting her car. Tired out from a busy day and an hour or two with kids, I was ready for a snooze in my easy chair. Reluctantly, at least internally, I agreed to the mission of mercy. The jump-start I had agreed to turned into a late evening trip to the mega-store for a new battery and then an installation in the dark. Because, I am jealous of my relaxation time, I was frustrated.
Today, a departing customer couldn’t start his truck outside my store and needed the same aid. This time, I used the hammer to make a better connection between his battery and the wire. It felt good. Hitting the battery with the hammer, I mean. I had other tasks that needed to be done…more important things than starting pickups. Then, soon after that came my conversation with the social worker and my mood was primed for the next person who approached me with a need. Enter the man described in the first paragraph above.
I said that I was barely remorseful. That changed as the car pulled out of the parking spot and I saw the Louisiana license plate, corroborating at least that much of his story. I can only say that I was stricken with guilt, assuming that my opportunity had passed without any possibility of recall. I don’t expect to ever see the man again.
The ways of God are not our ways, though. When I mention the old story many of you have heard, called “The Christmas Guest”, you may understand. An adaptation from an old Leo Tolstoy short story, the tale is of one who awaits a promised visit from the Savior, only to be visited by several needy people who are offered, and consume, the treasured items the central character has been saving for the special visit. At the end of the day, the Savior has not come, only more transients. The obvious conclusion comes in the form of the words, spoken centuries ago by Jesus, when He said, “As much as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” This story goes through my head tonight, as I think about my regret at not helping the man and the fact that, once again, second chances are given.
No, I didn’t see that particular man again, but just as I was ready to lock up for the night, a different young man walked in and said, “Do you know of any place I could get something to eat? I’ve walked over thirty miles today and I’m hungry.” I could have hugged him! And, you can bet, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice in one day! I immediately called a friend who owns a restaurant nearby and made arrangements for the man to have a good meal.
Can I talk with you for just a moment about greed? I have come to realize that greed doesn’t work the way the politicians say it does. It’s not about some fabulously wealthy people, who sit in their multimillion dollar mansions and feast on caviar and foie gras, while shunning anyone worse off then they. Oh, that’s greed, all right. But, it’s not the kind of greed that afflicts, or even affects, me. I am guilty of the kind of greed that demands my own personal space; the kind that protects my time out; the kind that says, “This is mine, you can’t have it.”
Especially in the cruelly charged climate we are experiencing this year, I hope that you won’t act as I did today and react to a few wrong assumptions by a misinformed man. If we allow bitter people to change who we are, soon the bitter person we become can’t be distinguished from them at all.
I don’t ever want to be Aesop’s dog, sitting on the hay and barking at every cow who comes to eat, simply because I lay claim to the bed I have been given.
Once again tonight, I am grateful for second chances. While it doesn’t take away the regret of missed opportunities, there is almost a sense of redemption that comes as better choices are made the second time around.
I hope they keep coming my way. I am a slow learner, you know…
“What sorrow awaits you…hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”
“There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others would pick them up.”
(Oscar Wilde~American poet/novelist~1854-1900)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.