I’ve seen him many times over the years, sitting on the picnic table at the gas station, face raised skyward, reminding me of a cat sunning itself; or walking down the sidewalk along San Jose Blvd, oblivious to the world around him, and no matter what the temperature, he’s bundled up from head to toe in the same worn out clothes that look like they need a good washing. His hair is long and tangled, as is the mustache and beard that covers his face, but his stride is purposeful and although he seems to be wandering, he doesn’t appear to be lost. I’ll never forget the first time I really saw him.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and we were at the marina getting ready to take the boat out for a day of leisurely play. I was sitting on the side of the boat, patiently waiting while the boys got everything ready and there he was, under the bridge, his bedroll beside him and several grocery bags lined neatly on the concrete ledge tucked up against the wall. I was startled to see someone there, only a few feet away and the fact that when our eyes met, he refused to look away. I remember the feeling of fear gripping me momentarily and I jumped down in an effort to expedite our journey.
A few minutes later I heard my son at the back of the boat and turned to see him standing where I had just been; he was waving at the man and saying hello, but the man didn’t answer; instead he turned away as if he hadn’t seen or heard him. “What’s that man doing under the bridge, Mama?” was the next thing out of his mouth.
As my husband backed the boat out of the slip, putting distance between us and the bridge, I explained to my son that the man had no home and lived under the bridge. I remember the look on his face and the tears that filled his eyes when he said, “I’m sorry for him that he doesn’t have a home,” and then we were off.
I had a hard time enjoying myself that day, as my thoughts kept turning to the man under the bridge and the fear I felt, even though I could have sworn I saw kindness in those eyes that refused to look away. And I couldn’t help but wonder how he came to be there. I’ve been feeling out of sorts the past few days, as things in my world aren’t going exactly the way I’d like them to go, and every-so-often I get to the point where I feel I have no control…then the caged animal syndrome sets in and things really get ugly.
After a few days of wallowing in self-pity I usually snap out of it and everything is fine again, but this time it’s been harder to shake. Then I saw the man under the bridge this morning and was reminded how blessed I truly am and how selfish I’ve been.
My original plan for Thanksgiving was to volunteer at the City Rescue Mission serving dinner to those less fortunate, but they have all the volunteers they need this year, and so my plans were ruined. Then I stopped and asked myself why I was so upset about this…and I realized that again, I was being selfish.
When I took a good long look inside myself, I realized that it wasn’t so much the idea of helping others that appealed to me, but the idea of making myself feel better by being in a situation that forced me to be thankful for all I have. I don’t think you can get more self-centered than that. But I had my wake-up call and am back on track now; realizing that it doesn’t matter how much you do for others, if your intentions aren’t pure, it makes no difference whatsoever. So, instead of helping many people for purely selfish reasons, I’m going to make a huge plate of food, seal it up and deliver it to the man under the bridge for all the right reasons.
A friend and I were talking the other day about people being such hypocrites and all the hoopla you see about the Second Coming of Christ being just around the corner and the signs and bumpers stickers asking, “Are You Ready?!” and he said something most profound…“Won’t they be surprised when He reveals himself and they realize who He really is?” He could very well be that man under the bridge…something to think about!