Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Glance

"Autumn Forest"
It's that time of year again, when colder temps force us to wear gloves and jackets, and the plight of the homeless seems to magnify.

There was a time when my heart had grown callous. I'm ashamed to admit that I reached a point where I lumped transients  together in my mind, and forgot that each of them has a unique and special story; a history that eventually led them to a point of homelessness, and in some cases, hopelessness.  Today I'd like to share something far removed from art--an incident that changed the way I view the homeless who sit with their signs at intersections or huddle in groups near dumpsters. I'm borrowing today's post from my other blog, Macromoments. I posted this back in 2005.


While waiting for the gas station attendant to fill my tank, I pulled out a list of errands I needed to run. That's when I detected movement out of the corner of my eye, and glanced up just in time to see a transient ambling up the road. He had the appearance of someone who'd been carrying a heavy backpack for years, and who knew exactly when and how to shift the pain from one shoulder to another. In a strange sort of way, he seemed almost comfortable with his load.

I guessed he was around late fifties, with a face so weather-beaten and leathery, it was hard to tell where the dirt ended and his tan began. Dressed in a tattered brown tweed coat and loose-fitting, camouflage pants, he marched to a cadence nobody else could hear. He'd wrapped a frayed gray scarf around his neck in an attempt to ward off a strong south wind, but from his expression, it looked like the wind was winning. I wondered how many harsh winters he'd marched up similar roads, on his way out of yet another town.

Gripping my pen through warm winter gloves, I felt a sudden twinge of guilt. My car was certainly warmer than any place he'd laid his head in recent days. But my pity was short-lived, and I began to reason away his pathetic situation. He has choices, like everyone else, I thought. Probably let drugs or alcohol ruin his life and lost it all.

I hated thinking such thoughts, but I didn't know where to mentally file vagabonds. Maybe he loved life on the road like the homeless man who was featured in a recent newspaper interview. But what if he didn't? What if he daydreamed about home, but felt he couldn't return? What if his mental state had muddied the memories of yesterday and he felt he no longer belonged? What if...

How was I to react to someone whose life was so distant, so out of sync with mine? Surely not like the woman in the Safeway parking lot one Thanksgiving, who plopped a raw turkey into a transient's rusty old cart, then mumbled, "Happy Holiday!"

The man was now within feet of my car. He glanced up and caught my gaze and in the shadow of his floppy-brimmed hat, soft brown eyes stared back at me. This stranger with the hurried, hunched gait paused momentarily at my car door to tip his hat and smile. It was like a scene straight out of an old western movie.

I returned his smile. For a quick moment, I felt a human connection that made me hold his glance a few seconds longer. Then I had to look away, mostly so he wouldn't see my tears. Dear Lord, this was somebody's baby boy! I didn't know whether I was praying or pitying him, but I know one thing: At that moment, God felt very near.

Hadn't this transient entered the world kicking and squealing for attention? Hadn't someone wrapped him in a cozy blanket and welcomed him into their family? Didn't they cuddle him and coax him to speak his first word? Who was there to cheer him on as he took his first wobbly step? Did he have brothers? Sisters? Parents who loved viewing the world through his dancing brown eyes? Maybe...or maybe not.

God gazed at me that long-ago afternoon through the eyes of a passing stranger, to pierce my apathetic heart. A simple glance
on a windy afternoon also rolled back the years, to remind me of another moment in time, when God had declared me lost, but loved me anyway. 


  1. What a beautiful, powerful piece, Bonnie! I loved it and remembered a similar incident in my life a few years ago.


  2. Oh Bonnie, so moving. I can't help but have tears well up with the memories of this man's life now, and as a child. What happens to people, how do we become hardened towards these people simply because of a few who choose to take advantage. My mother and I were out thrifting the other day when a cute little man { probably homeless or at least appeared to be }...struck up a conversation with us while perusing the books...he was a real sweetheart, but as we began to move on he asked if he could borrow 21 cents { 21 cents }, not a dollar, not 5....of course I would have given him as much as I had on me. We gave him the 21 cents and he thanked us and walked away with his book, probably to heart broke, because it was cold out and I could only think where was this sweet soul going. Life can be so confusing, all we can do is count our blessings and share them when we can.
    Hugs, Carrie

  3. Dianne, those type of incidents stick with us, don't they? I've never forgotten this man, and it's been years.

    Carrie, I know exactly what you're saying. It grabs my heartstrings when I think of how comfortable my life is compared with so many. I always go back to the same thought--this person was someone's newborn. It helps me to see each one as an individual.


So glad you stopped by!