Photo from Bigstockphoto.com

If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not deter or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.

-William Penn

 

Now that I’m back to the winter daytime feeding schedule, I see him. We’re like co-workers whose offices are on different floors of a large building. We don’t know each other and don’t speak. I’ve never even looked into his face, and yet I carry him around with me long after each feeding is over. He lives in my psyche.

 

As near as I can tell, he works the early afternoon shift at this particular exit ramp on Interstate 25.  He’s there between noon and three, the same as me. He holds a cardboard sign as he faces the exiting vehicles. I’ve never read it because his back is to me as I cross the overpass, but I imagine it says something like, “Please help me,” or “Lost my job. Anything will help,” or “God bless you.” I’ve seen others holding signs with those words scribbled in large black letters.

He’s there every day during the week – but not weekends. Sometimes I see a bicycle on the ground beside him, other times I have no idea how he made it to his post. I recognize him in part by the faded blue porkpie hat that seems to be part of his uniform.  He has long grey hair tied back into a ponytail. He carries a worn backpack and often has a bottle of water or cardboard coffee cup in one of his hands.

These are the tools of his trade.

He stands tall and proud, as if demanding that people notice him and acknowledge his plight. Sometimes a driver will slow down, and through an open window extend a bill. The man will hurry to the car and accept the offering. I can see him nod his head in what I presume is a thank you. Then he resumes his post.

It’s been a little more than a couple of years now that he and I go to our respective tasks at this exit ramp. It is his job. At first I judged him. In truth, he frightened me. “Why does he have to do this?” I wondered. “Can’t he get a job?”

After the judgment came skepticism. I was certain he was part of an organized gang there to fleece good-hearted people. I’d probably seen something on television about such things.

What I think today is that this is difficult and lonely work. He is at that exit ramp every day, rain or shine. Some days it’s freezing cold, windy and wet. And others, the weather is blistering hot with no air even moving. Yet to stand fast, holding a sign that pricks at the conscience of others, is daunting work. There are so many ways to earn money that would be easier, more comfortable.

But there he stands.

I call him the angel of the exit ramp. I believe I’ve noticed him because he has something to teach me.Something important about life and being human.

I’ve learned through this year just how capricious life can be. One moment everything is humming along smoothly, and in the next, the bottom drops out. Things you counted on like your health, or having a good source of income can change in the time it takes to snap your fingers.

And then the scrambling begins.

I’ve learned to stop judging this man. And I no longer fear him because I realize that he is me, and I am him.

We are all connected. Every one of us linked to the other.

And in just slightly different circumstances, it could be me wearing a porkpie hat, holding a cardboard sign and relying on my fellow human beings just to get by.

 

 

 

Advertisements