This picture is not the man I talked to. Just a stock photo.
AT THE STOPLIGHTS.
IT’S A FULL-TIME JOB!
One recent fall evening I was driving back from taking my grandson, Aaron, to his basketball camp, when I found myself approaching a busy 3-street intersection on the way home. It is at this intersection, which I do pass by regularly at various times of day and evening, that I notice an all too familiar face. (But for the past few months during this pandemic, his face is generously covered with a mask.)
What is this man doing? In this one certain place, and at so many different hours of the day? He’s simply walking in between the two lanes of cars which are stopped at their light with his paper cup extended toward each driver in a humble, almost prayerful gesture.
Although, I pass this man regularly, I don’t very often dig into my wallet when I see him coming my way. But I have from time to time.
But on this evening, I felt led to pull over my van (after I went thru the light), park, get out, and walk back to this man. I just wanted to hear a little about his life…if he was “open” to any sort of conversation at all.
This man seemed genuinely pleased that I had bothered to stop and interact with him for a few moments.
It was a cool, fall evening and one of the first things that he said to me was that he definitely wanted to get in “off the streets” for the winter. He was hoping to save up enough money “panhandling” to secure himself a room in the coming weeks.
I asked him if he ever did any other kind of work. He calmly replied, “Oh, yes, you might not believe it but I was once a chef who worked in many of the top hotels downtown for many years. “
So I asked if he tried working any other jobs since?
“Oh, I do some painting once in a while, but I’m out here almost all of my time.”
Then all of sudden, he asked me to come with him, to where his bag was stashed. He wanted to show me something.
I readily agreed, and followed him about 20 yards or so, and we stepped into this doorway which was a part of a boarded-up, one-time restaurant.
He quickly opened up his bag and began showing me some pictures of himself, outfitted in his full chef’s attire, at a couple at his former workplaces, and a couple with Chicago’s tall, downtown buildings in the background.
I was impressed, and not a little dispirited that he had lost those jobs…for whatever reasons one could think of.
And then he launched into a whole retelling of how he lost his wife to stage 4 cancer. And then there was the reality of having to take care of his three boys, who were now living with his mother in India. And, to be sure, he had pictures to back up this account of his story.
And he also told me how he sends money to them on a regular basis, so that doesn’t leave much for himself.
So what did I think? Could I put much credulity to his story? And if I had to give you an answer I‘d have to say, “Yes.”
Now, having said that, doesn’t mean that I would necessarily empathize with all the “possible” reasons for his life taking the turns that it did.
There was just one thing I could be sure of. I was sure that I would not want to trade places with this man.
I then launched into my concerns which centered around how he ought to be working with a “caseworker” (any caseworker!) that could help get him off the street.
He said he didn’t have any ID’s right now, and so he really couldn’t access any “caseworker” help even if he wanted it at this time.
I responded in my mind, “Ok, I guess you really don’t want any help.” I mean, I thought that I‘d been making some simple, sensible recommendations that might indeed alter his predicament significantly.
I then asked if I could pray for him. He readily agreed.
We parted ways amicably. I returned to my van, and he returned to walking between another double-line of cars stopped at their light.
Did my “stopping” do any good? I have no idea.
But one thing this encounter did reveal to me was the question, “How would I like to do what he’s doing, day in and day out? And how would I like “to count on” whatever folks give me to simply live and eke out “a life” if that’s what you can call it?
I’m sure you know my answer.
So what are we to do with folks like this? First of all, can’t we at least be kind to these folks? And then, can’t we give them “something” from time to time? (Whether it’s a little or little more than usual will be our choice.)
And finally, can’t we “at least” pray for folks like these?
I hope and pray so.
P.S. I was listening to Mark Heard’s “Victims of the Age” CD (a true classic that I wholeheartedly recommend) the morning after I finished this blog and his lyrics hit an ironic nerve. He calmly belts out these lyrics: “City life won’t let up while you’re waitin’ for the light to change.”
True, back when this LP/cassette was released back in 1982. And it’s still true today in 2020. And I confess I may be wrong, but I bet Mark didn’t quite envision this form of NOT “letting up while you’re waitin’ for the light to change.”
Thanks for stopping by. Chris.