‘Tis the season to judge less, love more

Published 3:33 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2016

He was kind of squatting beside the drive that leads into Wal Mart. He held a cardboard sign in his hand with big black letters spelling out the message, ‘Traveling. Out of Cash. Need Help.”

Beside him was a bag that maybe held his clothes. He kept it close to him as cars pulled up to turn onto the highway. I wondered if that was all he owned in the world.

I spotted him while I was waiting for traffic to clear so I could move onto the drive from the parking lot. While I watched, no one seemed to notice or acknowledge his presence.

The clouds overhead looked heavy, like it might start raining any minute. It wasn’t freezing cold, but it was cool, damp and unpleasant. This was not a good day to be outside, especially for someone squatting in the wet grass.

About now, I can almost hear some of the thoughts and comments from people. I’ve heard them before when people like this show up.

“He probably doesn’t really need the money.”

“This is how he makes a living.”

“He could get a job like the rest of us.”

“It’s a con. Bet he spends it on drugs or alcohol.”

I know this kind of thinking happens because I’ve been guilty of doing it myself. I’ve read the stories, seen reports on television, about people begging who really don’t need to beg, who are scamming kindhearted folks.

Maybe that’s what this man was about, but something told me on this day it didn’t matter why he was there. It was just important for me to acknowledge him.

I came to a stop beside where he was and waited for the light to change to green. He was holding his sign up, but his was looking down toward the ground.

Suddenly, he lifted his head and looked directly into my eyes. A kind of shock ran through me as I looked back at him. For a split second, I saw myself in those eyes.

I once wrote about a tribe that greets each other with the words, “I am here,” and “I see you.” It seemed we exchanged that greeting without saying a word.

For several seconds, we simply looked at each other. Then I reached into my wallet, grabbed a couple of dollars and passed them to him out the window. He gave me a tired smile and said thank you.

As I pulled away, I looked into my rearview mirror and noticed the person in the car behind me also handed him something. He took it and returned to his squatting position.

True, I don’t know this man’s story, don’t know if he truly was traveling and out of cash. However, this encounter wasn’t about him. It was about my experience, my reaction in that moment.

You see it doesn’t matter if he needed help or not. His motives aren’t important. What mattered was those seconds when I looked at him and realized we were not so different.

We were both breathing. Our hearts were beating. Once we were someone’s newborn and some day we will cease to be here breathing. What happens between that beginning and the ending is simply the script we choose to follow.

And beneath the choices and the drama, we are made of the same stuff, here by the same grace. So it was not for me to judge him, but to acknowledge him, and to consider what I’d want to happen were I squatting there on a cool, damp December morning.

This season of the year we grow a little kinder toward each other, don‘t we? It is the time when perhaps we don’t question the legitimacy of someone asking for help. We judge less, love more.

We are more open to sharing the unspoken greeting that passed between a stranger and me that day.

“I am here.”

“I see you.”

What a blessing if we continue to be that open when this season ends.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.