I had a normal morning today, woke up feeling pretty well. I got up, made coffee, got in the shower, and then retrieved my first cup of coffee after getting out of the shower. I read my daily bible reading and hadn’t been finished for long when my wife Katrina called me. She had had a rough morning with the kids, so she called me a little later then she had anticipated. Katrina and I had a nice visit on the phone and then I had my brief prayer time.
After that I went down and enjoyed fresh waffles for breakfast with sausage and orange juice. Now that I had my stomach somewhat full I went back to the room and began packing and finished getting ready. This was my last day in Las Vegas. I was there for a tradeshow for my employer to help run our booth full of products that are used in the manufacturing industry. I shaved, brushed my teeth, and gathered all of my belongings as I sipped on the rest of my coffee. After I got everything and myself ready, I went down to the hotel lobby to wait on Eric, my co-worker. It was my understanding that we were supposed to meet there at 8:30.
Since it was such a nice cool morning I decided to sit on the steps outside while I sipped another cup of steaming hot coffee. A few minutes passed and Eric did not show. While I was sitting there, an extremely ragged homeless man staggered by on the sidewalk. He seemed quite disoriented, and had his arms crossed trying to keep himself warm. As I was sitting there in my long sleeve shirt, I thought the slight nip in the air felt pretty good. “John”, as I thought of him (he reminded me of how the bible describes John the Baptist, wild and woolly), did not seem to have the same appreciation for the cool air that I did.
I watched in bewilderment as he stumbled over to the bench about twenty feet away. As he sat down on the bench I could not tell exactly what he looked like other than the fact that he was very thin. He had on a long sleeve hooded shirt of some type, and as I caught sight of his hands I noticed that they appeared to be those of a black man. As he settled into his resting place on the bench, he pulled off his hood to reveal a head full of grey, shoulder length hair. It was extremely unkempt, and actually reminded me of the curly locks of an old sheep. As he turned a little, I could see that his tanned and wrinkled white face was quite weathered. I’m certain that at this point I must have just been staring. I knew that I had to do something for him. Within thirty feet in the other direction was a very full all-you-can-eat food bar full of all sorts of hot breakfast items, complimentary to hotel guests. That was me, except I had already taken my fill from the buffet earlier.
As I sat there still waiting on Eric, other folks were mingling around the outside of the lobby, but I was certain that they were paying John no mind at all. By that time, John had curled up on the bench as if he were going to catch up on the sleep he had lost freezing to death all night. I called Eric and discovered that he had already gone across the street to the convention center. Now I had a dilemma. Should I go inside and get some food for John?
As I turned to him again, I was somewhat relieved that the decision had been made, as John had gotten up and began wandering in the opposite direction, stumbling as he went. Great. He would wander off and I would be over my obligation of getting him something to eat. What a wretch I am! My mind went back and forth between a guy who was starving to worrying about the people coming and going at the hotel, wondering what they would think of me feeding him.
I made up my mind, and before John could get away, I walked over to him to see if he wanted some food. As I approached him I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to get his attention, as he seemed to be in his own world. I walked up and made eye contact with a set of wild eyes, eyes that had seen a wealth of worry. His face was that of old, worn leather, in want of soap and water. I looked him in the eye and said, “Would you like something to eat?” As he looked back at me through the grey locks of his hair, he opened his mouth to reveal what was left of a few ragged teeth, and gladly nodded and said “Yes, and could you get some hot coffee, too? Can you bring it back to me at the bench?” I said yes, and quickly shuffled away inside.
I went inside, went up to the food bar, and filled a plate with eggs, hash brown potatoes, and sausage patties. Then I filled a cup with hot coffee and headed out the door. It seemed so odd. I believe that I could have made a few trips in and out, and in my neatly pressed pants and shirt I don’t believe anyone would have questioned me regarding what I was doing. Had it been John, they would have run him out the door.
As I arrived outside the door, I had to pass a gentleman that was standing between the door and John, probably there for the same convention that I was. I don’t know why on earth I really cared what a complete stranger would think about what I was doing, but I did. I walked around him and strolled right over to John at the bench, setting the plate beside him and putting the coffee into his very dirty but grateful hands. I believe that I caught a glimpse of fingernails that reminded me of those on an animal that desperately needed clippers. Happy that I had completed my mission, I turned and walked away as John thanked me and dived into what may have been the first meal he’d had in awhile.
Since I was heading to the trade show a little later than I had intended, I hustled on across the street. I never looked back. I didn’t know if I could stand to see what he did, or how fast he ate the food, or if someone would run him off from the bench. I just kept walking. Back to my life, a life of comfort, back into a multi-million dollar building housing over 7500 booths, many of which contained booths full of machines for food production. Imagine that.
As I walked along, I thought of the hundred dollars I had in my wallet. Should I have given him that? I had more at home. Should I have offered to take him to my room so that he could crawl into the bed that I had comfortably slept in for the past four nights, at the rate of over a hundred bucks a night? After all, my room was paid for until noon. From the looks of Johns clothes and shoes, which were all full of holes and ragged, I could have given him a good bit of my clothes to put on, some shirts, my nine-month old tennis shoes that looked brand new compared to his. Maybe I should have offered him my room so that he could take a shower and clean up, and then put on my clothes? I guess I may never know, since I never looked back.
I’m gone now. I went and did my duty at the trade show for a couple of hours before I had to depart to the airport. I filled my stomach with pizza before boarding the plane. I’ve now finished my complimentary cup of coffee they offered on the plane. I’m high above the clouds now, headed home. I wonder what John’s doing now, way down there, still homeless. I’ll likely eat dinner at the next airport between flights. I doubt if John had lunch. I’ll sleep in my bed at home tonight. John will sleep out there, somewhere, cold and hungry.
What’s wrong with me? This is not about one kind act that I performed, but about me giving away a meal that cost me nothing, especially in light of the fact that I had much, much more to give. I believe that God sent Eric across the street today so that I would sit on that step. I believe God came in the form of a ragged old man. I believe God put me to the test. I failed.
Where’s John now?
Written by David Steen at 35,000 feet, wondering if God is smiling at me or not. October 7, 2009