A few weeks ago, my husband and I were driving in the rain. Sitting on the edge of a street corner, we caught sight of an old man desperately trying to smoke a wet cigarette butt he’d just picked up from on the sidewalk. As we passed him, I instinctively said to my husband, “I feel so terrible for him. I wish we could give him some money.”
“Money isn’t really the answer. He needs a hot meal,” my husband replied.
We drove up the road to a local restaurant to order some quick takeout. Spinning our vehicle around, we raced back, hoping the man hadn’t left his spot. Thankfully, we spotted him just beginning to make his way up the road, and I called out to him. Soaking wet, dirty, and dragging a small shopping cart filled with odds and ends, he stumbled toward our car. He reeked of alcohol and looked very thin and frail, with missing teeth and a matted beard that hung nearly to his chest. He apologized for the state he was in and appeared to be embarrassed.
I asked him if he was hungry—if he’d like a hot meal. He said he would. I then asked if he’d like my umbrella. He shook his head and replied that he loved the rain: “It was a cleansing from God.”
Passing him the hot meatball sandwich and chocolate milk, we bade him well and continued on our way . . . only to realize the road we were on had come to a dead end. Turning the car around once again, we headed back to the spot where we’d just left him.
What happened next left Aaron and me speechless . . .
This homeless man had no idea we were coming back. He’d sat down and carefully opened his meal, placing it in front of him. We watched as he looked up to the heavens before taking a single bite and said a prayer, finishing it with the sign of the cross. He then looked down and noticed us watching, flashed us a big toothless grin, and a thumbs-up.
It was truly an authentic moment. Here was a man who was starving, wet, dirty, and tired, yet he was still filled with gratitude and reverence. It was such a powerful experience for both of us not only because we experienced a pure moment but because we were confronted with our own self-righteousness; we believed we were better, I guess, because our clothes were nice and clean.
We had felt so noble handing him that meal, thinking we were so wonderful, only to realize how wonderful he was. Giving to him gave us back far more than I can explain in words.
That’s the thing with experiences—until you yourself experience an act of pure, genuine gratitude, you can only slightly imagine what it feels like. For hours afterwards, Aaron and I kept saying to each other, “Wow! That man revered God. He was a good man regardless of appearances.”
It was a breathtakingly beautiful moment. That homeless man was our teacher showing us that gratitude lifts you to the highest expression of yourself!