Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Man With the Cardboard Sign

If there's one thing I've learned in my 28-and-a-half-years of life, it's that second chances don't come often. When we're given another opportunity to do something or say something we should have the first time, it is such a blessing. And can change a life.

A week or so ago I got into my car to leave work and head to school. Down a slight hill from my office is a red light that intersects a busy road, and that red light is my way home. And that red light is LONG.  That day, I started down the hill and near the stoplight there was a man holding a cardboard sign announcing he was homeless and looking for work. There were also no other cars waiting at that light. I knew that if I drove down that hill as I always did, I would have to wait out that long red light stopped just beside the man with the cardboard sign.

Now, I am not wealthy nor any type of big-time philanthropist, but I do give as much as I can when I can. I know that sometimes people holding signs aren't really homeless or needy, but my philosophy has always been that what I give them is between me and God and if they're being dishonest that is between them and God. But I am also incredibly sensitive and these types of sights (and also things like abandoned animals, abused children and neglected elderly) really affect me in a major way. I see or hear anything like this and I cry. I had also been told by my dad, as he rolled down his window and gave cash to another man with a cardboard sign years ago -- actually not far from where I was that day -- that it was okay for him to do that, but if I was ever alone in my car, it was not something that would be safe.

I am not proud to admit this, but instead of driving down that hill and stopping at that light, I took a left into the parking lot of the CVS. Although there was no other way to access my route but by that light, I thought maybe if I detoured through the parking lot, someone else would get in line for that light, or it would turn green, and I wouldn't have to stop close to the man with the cardboard sign. However, as I made that turn I realized that what I was doing was not only cowardly, it was insulting to the man. I knew in that moment what I had done was wrong, and God was disappointed in me, as I was in myself. It was broad daylight in the afternoon with several cars around, nothing bad would happen if I rolled down my window and gave some cash to the man with the cardboard sign. I turned another corner to get back on the road near the light, and two cars pulled in front of me, neither of which handed any money to the man. I stopped my car to wait, third car in line, and reached for my wallet. At that moment the light turned green, and several cars were in line behind me, so I drove through the light and went on my way. I had missed my chance.

 I thought about what I had done -- or more correctly, what I had failed to do -- a lot after that incident. Although I drove that way every day, twice a day, I never saw the man with the cardboard sign again.

Until today.

I saw him just like I had the first time, holding his sign as I was driving down the road to head for school. There were already two cars in line waiting. This time, I prayed that the light would stay red so that I would have time to speak to the man and give him what I had. I stopped my car and he was slightly in front of me. I pulled out a couple of dollars from my glove compartment and a couple from my wallet. All I had was five $1 bills, nothing at all really, but I rolled down my window and waved to him. He came over to my car, and I handed him those five dollars.

"I'm sorry, it's not much, but it's all I have with me right now," I said.

"It's plenty. Thank you," said the man with the cardboard sign.

"You're welcome. God bless you.* Have a good day," I said.

The light turned green and I drove away.

As I drove down the road I teared up as I thanked God so much for giving me a second chance to make good on what I should have done the first time. We hardly ever get second chances, and I was so, so, so grateful that this opportunity had come my way.

*I am not a typical "God bless you" type person. Unless someone sneezes, that is just not something I normally say. I have no idea why I said it today.

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