If you found a scruffy-looking man stalking your car, looking from left to right, what would be your first thought?
That happened to me once. It was 9 p.m. on a Saturday, I had finally finished work and left my office. It was pouring rain, and all I could think about was the hot meal waiting for me at home.
I was approaching the spot where I had parked my car, and in the endless blur of rain I saw the silhouette of a man in disheveled clothes loitering around my vehicle.
He was alone, shivering with cold, and glanced from right to left every few seconds as he walked along the white lines marking my parking spot. The closer I got, the stronger my suspicions became.
I was only a few steps away when I noticed that the man was looking inside my car and that the windows were rolled down a quarter turn.
That’s when it hit me: I had left my wallet on the dashboard of the vehicle that morning, and that’s exactly where the man seemed to be looking.
I ran over and called out to him. I prayed that somehow he wouldn’t reach for the wallet, grab the money, and run away. I was too tired, and if I had to chase him, I wouldn’t catch up.
“Hey! You! Why are you looking at my car? Back off, or I’ll call the police!” I yelled.
“You own this car?” the tired-looking man asked me.
I could barely hear his voice over the sound of the rain falling on the roof of my car. I could smell the cheap alcohol on his breath, which disgusted me even more.
“Yes, I’m the owner,” I replied with a disdainful expression. “And who the hell are you?”, I asked with the phone ready to dial 911.
The man began to explain that he was a beggar who lived near the bank on the opposite side of the street and begged every day in the surrounding area.
“This is my neighborhood. I know every face here and every car. Yours too. I’ve seen you park here every day and I’ve seen you go into that building to work late. And today, I’ve been standing near your car, trying to watch it for you.”
“What a lousy lie,” said I. “You think I don’t know a thief when I see one?”
But when the man calmly explained what had happened that night, I ate my words out of embarrassment.
Four hours ago, the man was passing by the parking lot when he noticed that my car window was open and my wallet was on the dashboard.
I remember that I had actually forgotten to roll up the window after paying for my breakfast at the drive-thru that morning. When this man saw my car, he decided to do something unusually kind.
“You have one of those fancy cars, sir. I was worried that a bunch of vandals wandering around looking to get easy money would see the window open and grab the wallet off the dashboard.”
I knew that had happened to a lot of people in that neighborhood before.
“So I stood guard near your car and thought you would be out in an hour,” the man said. “But when you didn’t show up, the group of vandals came over and I could hear them plotting how to roll the window all the way down and drive off in the car with your money.”
“I wasn’t going to let that happen. I walked up to them, caught them red-handed and chased them away, pretending to call 911.”
“I told them, ‘I hope you kissed your mothers goodbye today, boys. Because you won’t be going home for a long time.’ I lied by telling them the police were on their way. The boys fled as fast as they could.”
“I was waiting for you so the car and your money would be safe, then back to my place. Be careful, sir. It’s your hard-earned money, and there are a lot of vultures waiting to snatch it from you,” the man said before turning to leave.
I mumbled a “thank you,” but my conscience wanted me to do more. I had insulted the man, and I couldn’t just let him walk away.
“Why didn’t you take the money?”, I asked.
He turned around and seemed almost offended by my question.
“Please, sir. I don’t steal. Life has taught me to be better than that,” he replied simply.
“Besides, if I had stolen it, I would have ended up spending it on alcohol,” he added, pointing to an old bottle in his pocket.
I wanted to hug this man because he was the first honest person I had met in months. He worked with some of the richest people in town, and yet this beggar was the only one who didn’t have an ulterior motive. So I hugged him, much to the man’s surprise.
“Would you like to work for me,” I asked, “I have a small office here.”
“That’s very kind of you, sir. But I have a terrible problem. Every penny I earn I use to drown myself more and more in alcohol. It feels like a curse that I can’t do anything about,” the man said, his eyes watering.
“It’s the only reason I’ve lost everything and I’m out here on the streets.”
The rain had started to get heavier, and the fascinating homeless man in front of me couldn’t stop shivering from the cold.
I thought about it for a second and asked him to come to the mall with me.
“The least I can do is buy you a hot meal and something warm to put on,” I told him.
I spent the next hour with him, buying him some shirts, coats and shoes. Then we sat in a local store while he ravenously gobbled soup and a hamburger.
Some would say I did my part in repaying the man’s kindness. But there was something about him that touched me. I wanted to do more for him.
Then I ordered a hot tea for him.
“Do you want to change your life, Lester?”, I asked him at the end of our long conversation.
“Of course I’d like to, believe me. But after all these years and this addiction that refuses to leave me, I don’t think I can.” The man cried again.
I refused to accept that the man could not change. I myself had to fight many uphill battles in life, and I felt that this man also needed some support, just as I did so many years ago.
And so, the next day, I took him to the best alcohol addiction rehab center in town. I paid a full month in advance, gave the man a tight hug, wiped away his tears and wished him good luck.
On my way home, my heart was filled with a feeling I hadn’t experienced much in my life: satisfaction.
I didn’t expect the man to contact me again or be indebted to me. I didn’t feel like a savior, just a decent human being.
But a month later, a smart-looking young man walked into my office looking for work. I almost didn’t recognize him, but his kind eyes gave him away.
“Lester, good to see you! You look great!”, I told him.
Then he hugged me and thanked me a thousand times as my staff looked on in surprise at this softer side of me. The man had earned a job in my office.
It’s been three years since then and Lester still works for me as an administrative assistant. It’s not exactly a high-paying job, but he’s managed to get his life back on track.
He met a woman and lives rented in a modest apartment just above the place where he used to beg. The kind man continues to learn and grow every day. I look at him and joy for the fact that I was able to help him build a better life.