We went on a huge shopping trip on Saturday. Shortly after seeing Brian’s family off on their journey back home, we bundled Reagan up, packed many millions of snacks, and loaded up the car. Off we went.
We drove past a field full of cows. Reagan mooed at them and we all laughed. She rode silently all the way there, snug in her carseat with her blanket in her lap and her bear in her arms, staring out the window at the world whizzing past her.
We drove past farmhouses and I wistfully remembered waking up in similar farmhouses when I was a child. I remember waking up to the sound of a tractor rumbling across the yard. Saturdays were cleaning days and my mom would be busy mopping floors, dusting, or vacuuming. My brother and sister would be watching cartoons. We’d snuggle under blankets because farmhouses are rarely warm and toasty. Sometimes we’d even stand on the registers to warm our feet as the furnace kicked in.
As we approached town, we drove past a bunch of men setting up a Christmas tree lot. “Christmas trees!” I squealed to Brian. He smiled, “Yup.” We sold Christmas trees for a few years and I remember so fondly unloading, unwrapping, trimming, lining up and then showing and selling all those trees. I really don’t think there’s anything more fun to sell. People were so happy to be picking out a Christmas tree. They always smiled. It was tiring work, but it was also very rewarding. My Dad always let us pick out whatever tree we wanted. Over the years, we had some big, gorgeous trees adorning our little farmhouse.
We turned off the interstate and waited at a busy intersection. And there he was. There were others nearby. Many others. Probably 4 or 5 of them scattered around the median and the curb. It was a cold and very windy day. I’m sure they wore every stitch of clothing they owned. Each of them held signs. But I only read his.
TRAVELING PLEASE HELP
He was unshaven. His clothes were dirty. He had glasses that were slipping farm down his nose. He did not smile. He did not make eye contact. He stared straight ahead, clutching his sign in what must have been two frozen hands.
I’ll admit, I don’t live in a city and I rarely see someone begging. I don’t understand what he’s been through or what trouble has overcome him. I don’t even know if he’s scamming people or someone "dangerous". I don’t know.
But here’s what I do know: my heart broke for him that cold Saturday morning. And I felt deeply sorry as we drove past him on our way to the mall where we planned to spend a lot of money on Christmas gifts and other “necessities.” Or maybe it was guilt. Every time we got out of the car to scurry into a store, I felt the cold pierce through my sweater. We ate lunch and had so much left we took some home. We stood in a store and wondered whether $45.00 was too much for a single pair of maternity jeans. And he was never far from my mind.
I’d like to tell you I did more than choke back a few tears when we drove past him and I saw the look on his face. I’d like to tell you that I bought him a new WARM winter coat to replace the worn out Vikings jacket he wore. I’d like to tell you I brought him a hot cup of coffee and something to eat. I’d really like to tell you I did something MORE than offer up a silent prayer. But I didn’t. We drove past.
I try to reason and say we couldn’t really have given him a ride to someplace else, which is probably what he wanted. We couldn’t truly “risk” Reagan’s safety by inviting a stranger into our car. We couldn’t stop in the middle of the road because of the traffic. There so much we couldn’t do.
But even now, as I sit here and search for consolation and peace, I wonder about the things I could have done. In all my days, no matter how bad things have gotten, they’ve never been that bad. If they had, I wouldn’t have been able to drive past.