One day about ten years ago while I was living in California, I was driving back to my office at lunchtime when I noticed a man sitting on a bench at a bus stop. His hat and clothes looked worn; his hair was longish, his beard unkempt. He wasn’t begging or even looking outward, but my heart was strangely stirred to help him. I had only a $5 bill to offer and considered driving to an ATM for more, but I was afraid he’d be gone when I returned.
I turned my car around and pulled into the bus stop. He was either looking down or dozing and didn’t look up until I lowered my window and held out the $5. He saw me and smiled as he slowly got up with a cane that I hadn’t noticed. I was sorry that I’d expected him to come to me. When he reached the car, he said, “How did you know I needed money? I was on my way to the VA hospital.”
How could I NOT know he needed money? I said, “You looked so sad,” and unexpectedly, I started to cry. He watched me for a moment, then looked down at the sidewalk, blinking away tears. I was awash in feelings and a powerful sense of meaning, and it seemed that he was too, but neither of us spoke. I wanted to say, “Jesus loves you,” but I knew those trite words wouldn’t convey my sense that God was trying to reach him through me. I had no idea how to communicate what I felt, so I said only, “I’m sorry.” I was still crying as I drove away.
The encounter affected me powerfully. I cried and prayed for him through the evening, and often in the days that followed. There was no conscious reason, just a recurring memory of the man’s face that stirred my heart and moved me to prayer. For weeks, I looked for him whenever I was out. I wanted to tell him that I felt God’s love for him, to listen to him if he wanted to talk, to give him more money, or just to sit with him in silence, but I never saw him again except in my mind’s eye.
I sometimes help strangers without feeling much except a vague sense of “should.” Other times, I feel compassion and a desire to help — ordinary feelings that are soon forgotten. This experience was different. God’s Presence added a dimension to the encounter that is hard to describe and impossible to forget. The compassion I felt for the raggedy man was deeper and stronger than my own, and the love that passed through me to him was so powerful that it left me reeling.
— Sally Gillette