It was a day like any other. I was at work styling hair and giggling with my customers, until one man, who was patiently awaiting a haircut, remarked “OH! That scared me!”
He had all my attention. I jerked my head around so quickly it nearly spun off my shoulders. His face was ashen, but a smile slowly appeared.
He was not the type of man to be easily scared. I tried not to panic. Cautiously, I asked him, “What happened?”
He grinned a bit more but the smile wasn’t quite to his eyes yet. He was trying to recover his senses. Quiet stalked the room like a lion does it prey. Every eye was upon him. The room full of people waited for his response.
He looked into the room next to where I work and said, a little sheepishly, “I thought there was a child in that plastic bag on the floor.”
I had to go look at the scene because I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. When I entered the room, I knew what had happened. The child wasn’t a child at all. It was a mannequin head that is used for practice. It had been packed into a bag to take to State Board when my granddaughter went to test for her license. My little boys, who are akin to a hurricane, had made a spin through the room and knocked it off the table without my knowing. Ha! It was funny, but I couldn’t laugh. I had seen the look in my customer’s eye and the stress on his face. He couldn’t believe I would have a child in a plastic bag, but his eyes saw something different. His emotions were torn asunder trying to decide what he should do. Clearly, if there had been a child in the bag, he would have contacted child protective services as fast as his fingers could dial. And he should have if that were the case.
I forgot this incident. It blended into the obscurity of a sea of episodes that one accumulates over a lifetime. Then, yesterday, I was playing on Facebook, and something drew my eye to a video. It was about a homeless man being a hero. It drew my attention as sure as it was a magnet and my eyes were steel. As I watched it, everything stopped around me. There was no sound, only the caption below. I watched in horror as the video revealed what is missing in the hearts of many people.
The city was a large one. The day was frigid. Busy people brusquely walked to and fro. Some were shopping, others were trying to get to work. The little boy stood on the edge of the sidewalk holding a black plastic bag. He was begging.
I leaned closer to my computer screen. Bile rose in my throat as I saw people, waltz by him as if they could only dance to their own music. So lost in themselves, they could not hear the sound of the little boy’s distress. They were all bundled up for the day in their warm coats, hats, and gloves. Gucci shoes clicked on the concrete. Men glanced furtively at their Rolex watches. They never even noticed the boy wearing a t-shirt in freezing weather.
My mind furiously searched for answers to a thousand questions. Was this video staged? Why isn’t someone helping? Can’t someone give him some warm cocoa? Why doesn’t someone go to a thrift store and buy him a jacket? Who is holding the blasted camera??
Of course, it was a surveillance camera, In my distress, I almost missed that nugget of knowledge.
I screamed at the monitor screen, “Help him!”
The boy stood in the cold for over an hour. When he could not stand the cold any longer. He climbed into the large black plastic bag to shield himself from the wind. Only his head and shoulders were visible. Hundreds of people passed him. Still, no one offered help.
“Why?” I didn’t know. I cried.
After two hours, a homeless man approached the little boy. He sat him up so that he could look into his eyes. He removed his coat and placed it around the child. Though I couldn’t hear what he said, his actions spoke volumes. The coat was symbolic. By giving it, he offered the boy hope.
Again, I had questions. Why did the homeless man wait so long? I shuddered. The sobering clutches of reality made its grand entrance. I knew what he had been wrestling with in his soul. He had a front row seat in the arena of humanity and witnessed first hand, his own fate. If he gave up his own coat in the freezing temperatures, it would likely mean his death. It was obvious to him, anyone who did not have enough compassion to help a child, would never find enough in their hearts to help a grown man.
I was ashamed.
Have we become a nation that can ignore the cry of the little children? We, who live in the land of milk and honey, can we not spare a cup for the poor and desolate? What are we to become if our bowels of compassion are locked so tight that all that is good in us dies.
Kindness is one of the cheapest commodities available. There is no reason it cannot be freely given. The homeless man set an example for us all. He, who used the frigid sidewalks, to teach by example, gave all he had, himself. In so doing, he gave hope and encouragement to those not as fortunate as he. He might not have a college education or drive a luxury vehicle. He might not own anything but the clothes on his back, but he jeopardized his life to save a child. Even he knows, children do not belong in garbage bags!