He was a small statured man with a worn brown jacket and jeans. His graying hair curled out from underneath the sides of his faded blue ball cap. His genuine smile didn’t care that it revealed a mouthful of missing teeth. I don’t even know his name, at least not yet. The image of him standing there expressing himself is seared into my mind. It was his way of speaking for himself and his cohorts.
It was unusually cold for Arizona. Regrettably it had been awhile since we’d been down there, but my wife and I had definitely felt the calling. That type of calling that burns your face like a slap when you walk outside and feel stinging cold on your face.
The morning hours brought temperatures that revealed steam billowing out of sewer manhole lids and storm drains as it wrestled with the freezing morning air. It was early afternoon the Sunday before Christmas as we pulled into the downtown public library parking lot.
It wasn’t my first rodeo so I knew what to expect and how to get things started, “I’ll be right back,” I said to my wife as I was getting out. She got out and our three daughters followed suit… it wasn’t their first rodeo either. I approached the closest guy to us. He was sitting in the yellow grass, the back of his old camouflage army jacket toward us.
“Excuse me – You know if anyone around here needs a sleeping bag?” I asked him. He was startled. Not too many people approach those people downtown who live in the park and ask them anything. They’re used to people avoiding them. They’ve grown accustomed to feeling invisible.
“I could use one of em’!” He said, gathering his senses as he got up. My wife had the back of the SUV opened and grabbed one of the sleeping bags piled high in the back as I walked him toward the vehicle. She handed the man a sleeping bag and our oldest handed him a couple of burgers we’d waited an hour to get made.
The invisible people, that included women and children, realized they’d become visible… even if just for the day. They flocked from all over the park to get provision. Some of them ran, some of them tried to run. After we’d run out of sleeping bags our girls walked around the park most people avoid like the plague, excited to hand out provision and help the invisible people. Every one of those people was well-mannered and gracious. As appreciative to be recognized as they were fed.
As we pulled out of the parking lot in humble silence I spotted him again. He’d moved to stand on the curb by the exit. He knew he wasn’t invisible to us, but wanted to make sure to express his gratitude one last time as we were leaving. I waved and he waved back smiling that contagious, toothless grin.
His act wasn’t romantic, but it was genuine. He was expressing himself from the heart. I don’t think he even had time to think about it, he just did it as we were pulling out. That’s when I realized that we’d gotten much more than anyone there that day…
Right after he waved, he nodded his head, tilting the bill of the old cap down… then blew us an invisible kiss…