It was late December and our children were still little so naturally we were broke. Christmas was coming and although we were not extravagant, we still provided special food and thoughtful gifts for all eight of them. We were entering the on ramp on I-40 to go home from a grocery excursion and saw standing alone, an elderly gentleman leaning on a wooden crutch. He was about 70 with a stubble of beard; he was dressed in fairly ragged clothing, wearing an old gray hat. His belongings were in a small stained bag, and he had an old woolen blanket pulled tightly about him. I felt sudden sadness upon seeing him and asked my husband if we should stop. He said no because we had three of the children with us and he would have to squeeze him in the backseat with them. He said that surely someone would pick the old gent up for me not to worry. And yet both of us felt a nagging sadness at the old man’s plight.
The following morning we realized we had forgotten some necessary items and again made the twenty mile run to the adjacent town. It was overcast, drizzling and a very cold blasting North wind made conditions miserable. As we drove I asked my husband if he thought someone had picked up the old man. He promised me that surely someone had. We bought the last of our necessities and had only forty dollars left as we entered the on ramp.
Sweet Jesus, he was still there! How could he still be there? We stopped just beyond the old man and my husband got out of the car to help him to his seat. He settled in and I turned the heater to warp while he began thanking us. He said he was trying to make it the Indian Pueblos in New Mexico where he knew he could stay for the winter. He said was Canadian and had served in WWII for the US but had been denied benefits due to his citizenship status. He had fallen on hard times and just needed a bus ticket to get on his way but could find no help in getting one. He said had been standing on the on the on ramp for many days. My husband suggested that we take him to the Travel Plaza where all of the truckers stopped for gas and that perhaps he could find a ride from someone there. He gratefully accepted the idea and said he was warming up a bit. My husband stopped at the plaza and pressed our last forty dollars into the gentleman’s hand as he helped him into the building.
As we drove away we kept feeling a nagging worry and so after unloading our bundles, we drove the seven miles back to the plaza to check on him to see if he had obtained a ride. Our inquiries were met with puzzled looks for no one had seen him… not the people inside my husband had spoken to as he opened the door, not gas attendants nor any the truckers…no one. Only we had seen him.
As this recession deepens, let us remember that many times our sense of compassion, our sense of brotherhood and our ability to unconditionally share with those less fortunate than ourselves may be tested. And let us remember: ‘Forget not to show love unto strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares‘.