The Homeless Man
Inside, my eyes were immediately drawn to a small, wiry, 50ish man dashing from rear to front and from front to rear at a table stacked with papers in a far corner, a sheaf of papers in one hand, waving them in a theatrical manner, guaranteed to attract attention.
It was a strange scene: this man, an unkempt beard sprouting from his weathered face, dirt particles nesting in various nooks and crannies of his tattered stretched-out-of-shape cardigan sweater and worn-to-a-sheen pants. He was spreading papers out on a table as though he was setting up for a business meeting. It appeared obvious that he was homeless and/or suffered some sort of emotional impairment. Intrigued, I ordered coffee and a sandwich, then sat at the other end of the room where I could observe him.
Noticing after a while that he was also being watched by a seemingly curious young waitstaff behind the counter talking in hushed voices, I waited, expecting to hear muffled snorts, snickers, even ridicule. But none was forthcoming.
The Tip Jar
Instead, one of the waitstaff dug around inside what appeared to be a tip jar, pulled out some bills and loose coins, counted them out on the counter, and rang them up on the cash register. Another poured coffee into a mug, removed a cold meat sandwich from the glass case, then walked over to the man who was still fastidiously arranging his odd assortment of papers into neat stacks in front of him on the table. The employee set the coffee and sandwich down in front of him.
Finished with my own lunch, I prepared to leave. But something caused me to waver a moment. Struck by the generosity of the young staff, their willingness to give, even of their meager tips, to someone less fortunate than themselves; to not see this man as unworthy or insignificant, served to remind me of my own temporary passivity–my own less-than-generous attitude.
I walked over to the man.
It was obvious as I approached that he was doubtful as to my intentions. Was I some authority, the restaurant manager perhaps, there to chasten him, even yell at him? Worse yet, usher him back out into the bone-chilling cold?
Despite his wariness, however, he presented a certain dignity. There was even a rakish, debonair manner about him as he greeted me, cordially, respectfully. He appeared to bow before me, though he didn’t.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Happy New Year,” he said, although it was now February.
As the man stood there, still appearing doubtful, I simply touched his shoulder gently and wished him a Happy New Year in return and told him to enjoy his day. Then I walked over to the counter and placed a ten-dollar bill inside the tip jar. I walked out of the café feeling more optimistic and enthusiastic about our wonderful country and its people than I had in a long while.
Barbara Weddle writes from Kentucky.
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