Red Lights and Signs

Stopped at a red light and headed south at the intersection of Milwaukee and Fairview, a Boise homeless man approached my car yesterday afternoon. Despite the leathery texture of his sun-worn face, he appeared to be in his mid-30s like me.

Handsome and Homeless

As he drew closer, his steps were that of a slow and cautious cadence. I sensed no threat from the man under the heap of sandy blonde, jaw-length hair. When his stroll had come to a stop, he was somewhere between six-to-eight feet away from my passenger side.

Dressed in faded black jeans and a worn-out gray and black flannel, he was close enough for me to see that he was handsome. It’s a terrible thing to admit, but his good looks made his situation read as all the more dire to me. But what struck me more than anything was his attempt to look like more than the busy street corner gave him credit for.

He looked like the kind of person who never gave up; a quality I admire.

Anything Helps

Pressed to his chest was a weathered and limp cardboard sign that read, “Homeless, but employed and struggling to feed my children. Anything helps.” At just over six-feet tall, it was obvious that his was the build of a man who knew hunger better than most. My heart broke in the next moment when I realized his children were probably accustomed to the same conditions.

Rolling down the window of my white Camry, the most I could do was ask him what he wanted to eat. In an instant, his bright blue eyes began to well, and he thanked me three times before quietly saying, “Anything but pickles and onions, ma’am.” The light turned green, and I went to pick up a sandwich.

Seeing Beyond the Cardboard Sign

So often it’s said that so many of these men and women are nothing more than scammers and drug addicts looking for hand-outs. While I believe that’s true sometimes, I believe a kindness payed forward is a kindness payed forward none-the-less.

Was my 45-second appraisal of a total stranger accurate? Maybe. Maybe not. Could he have been a liar playing on the passions of my mother’s heart? I don’t know and I can’t say that it really matters. I’m no martyr for caring. I’m just a human with a heart trying to see beyond the cardboard sign.

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