As I bent down to place the silver end of the orange air hose to my front tire I could hear footsteps approaching from behind.
“Pretty car there, sir.” said the voice.
Turning I could see a tall man dressed in long pants and blue t-shirt. Both needed cleaning long ago. His face, dark and tired, reflected the sweat on his face of the early morning summer heat.
“Hey, I don’t mean to bother you,” he said, “but would you mind buying a me a cup of coffee?”
Inside I could hear the voice I’ve heard for years saying, “don’t do it, you’re only encouraging the behavior.”
“I’m sorry,” I said patting my pants leg, “I’m not carrying any change or cash with me today.”
Technically speaking, the statement was the truth. I did not have any change in my pockets nor did I happen to have any cash with me at the time. But inside, my answer bothered me.
The man politely thanked me for my time and slowly turned away. As he walked I noticed half-full black plastic trash bag trailing him from behind. Pausing, he leaned over the edge a trash can at a nearby gas pump. Soon afterwards the sound of aluminum cans inside the bag announced his moving onto the next set of gap pumps.
When in doubt, I’ve always put the direction of my life in the hands of God – and so I did again in this moment. Sounds crazy, but I’ve always felt as if God regularly puts opportunities before us to prove our worth and humanity. I mean, if a straggling puppy came up to us, don’t you think most of us would reach down, pet it and see if we could help it out? Then why not our fellow man?
“I really regret my decision,” I said to myself – and God, “if given another chance, I’m going to make this right.”
Finishing putting air in the rear tires, I got back in my car and pulled out of the gas station and into traffic.
And just like that, the man in dark pants, dirty t-shirt and black bag of aluminum cans reappeared – now searching through a trash can at a business a hundred yards down the street.
I flipped on the turn signal, pulled up to the business and stepped out of the car.
“Did you say you’d like a cup of coffee?” I asked.
“Why, yes sir,” he said.
Fortune have it, we happened to be standing in front of a small café with dozens of cars and trucks parked around.
“How about something to eat?” I asked as I signaled for him to follow me to the door of the restaurant.
“Sure,” he said, carefully placing his bag out of the way as if to keep it safe from prying eyes.
As we walked through the door we could both feel the cool air rush against our faces – as if cold water rinsed across us.
“Two coffees, please.” I said to the lady at the counter. “And he’d like something to eat.”
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my plastic credit card and placed it on the counter. No cash, but I did have a tool available to help buy my fellow man a cup of coffee.
Moments later we both walked out the door – he with his coffee and brown paper bag with a biscuit and me with feeling as if God had given me a mulligan.
– 30 –