Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The poor you will have with you always...."

After two straight days of complete and utter crazy busyness - I got a chance to tap the proverbial brakes for a few hours last night with two old and dear friends, Butch Kaping and Otto Walter.  These are guys who I worked for/with back in the 1980's when I was still in the construction and insurance restoration business.  We ended up going to one of our old haunts, the Robin Hood Pub in Sherman Oaks for a couple of pints (although they had bar-coasters for some fine-looking India Pale Ales...the only thing halfway decent they had on tap was Bass Ale!) and some tasty pub-grub.  The "Little John" sliders were awfully good, I must say!  It was really great to see the lads.  We swapped the same old tales and told the same old jokes for about five hours.  A wonderful, relaxing time was had by all three of us.  Today, it's back to the blitz of activity as a few more things get crossed-off our pre-departure agenda list!

But what I sat down to write about today is the very touching (but at the same time very strange!) thing that happened to me on my way from West Hollywood and Sherman Oaks yesterday afternoon.

I drove over Laurel Canyon into the San Fernando Valley (there is nothing whatsoever "freeway-close" about the drive from West Hollywood into the East Valley!)  I needed to make a pit-stop as soon as I turned onto Burbank Blvd. near the Orange Line bus way terminal.  There is a Subway right there, and I needed to go in to use their bathroom. 

After I parked my car, I began to walk toward the front door.  Now, you need to know that yesterday at Noon, I celebrated a Requiem Mass at St. Mary of the Angels in Hollywood for a friend who had passed-away last I was still in my full dress black cassock and collar.  As I approached the door to open it and go inside, there was a homeless-looking deaf beggar out front, holding a large Subway drink cup that had a few single dollar bills and some loose change inside of it. 

He didn't hold out the cup or try to accost me in any way, as sometimes happens.  He just sort of looked me up and down and smiled at me in my medieval clerical garb.  I nodded back and opened the door.

After I finished my business...I noticed that the man was gone.  I exited the storefront and turned toward the space where I had parked my car.  It was then that I noticed that the beggar-fellow had moved over to directly in front of where my car was.

Then this man did something that is still bringing up a lump in my throat today when I think about it.

He reached into his Subway cup and took out all of the folded single dollar looked like a small wad of perhaps four, maybe five dollars.  With the bills in his right hand and the cup in his left, he motioned in such a way that I could tell he was both mute and deaf ...  He held out the money and motioned with his eyes and hands for me to take his an offering!!

In all of my years in the ministry, this was the first time this has ever happened to me.  Oh, I've had the occasional waitress come up to me during a meal and say, "Father, that couple over there in the corner booth would like to buy your dinner..." - or, had someone want me to bless their car at the body shop and slip me a few dollars.  And, for course there are those nice people in Nigeria who constantly want me to share in their "$257-million-in-gold-bars hidden in a storage-locker somewhere in Lagos"...all very nice gestures, to be sure...but all completely unnecessary. 

Over the years, I've come to understand not to refuse.  Well... the exception being those nasty Nigerian scammers!  My wonderful little Armenian dry-cleaner taught me this lesson about accepting gifts.  She always does all of my vestments and other church altar-ware with no-charge.  When I used to insist on paying her, she would simply say that it was her blessing to be able to give in some way, and that I shouldn't "steal her blessing". 

But nothing ever like this!!  Here was a guy who maybe had ten dollars to his name...and he was wanting me to take half of it!!  I was almost as speechless as he was...but I managed to say " please, keep that!!"  He motioned even more vigorously, but still I refused.  I closed my hands around his and enclosed the money tightly into his soiled palms.  He slipped the wad of bills back into his cup, then he bowed his head and I gave him a blessing...and he just smiled at me and nodded goodbye.

As I got into the car, I recalled the words of Jesus from St. Mark's Gospel:  "For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always".

I drove away thinking what an incredible blessing it was for me to have this happen. 

I feel kinda awful, though.  I can't believe I totally forgot to put something in his cup.  But something tells me I'll see this man again one day...

1 comment:

  1. This brought tears to my eyes.... 2 reasons. mention of the Requium Mass (for my dear friend Flori +RIP+) and for the heartfelt story of this man, a beggar with nothing to his name who wanted to donate his only money that he'd likely eat that day... like the Widow in the Bible, giving her only 2 coins (the widow's mite).