This afternoon, on Facebook, a friend of mine wrote about a knapsack and a cardboard sign beside the road on her way home from work. Just those few words reached into my chest and pulled out a memory so strong and poignant that tears filled my eyes the same way they did on the day it happened.
It was June or July in Georgia, so it was blisteringly hot. I was driving to see a friend and when I pulled off the highway exit, there was a man with a large green army duffel bag, dirty blue jeans, a heavy jacket, and a hand written sign. It’s been a few years and I couldn’t tell you what that sign said, but I can tell you that it didn’t matter.
When I saw him there, tall and thin and looking just as worn down as one of my uncles after a long tobacco season, I knew I had to do something. With tears in my eyes, I headed straight for the closest gas station. I bought the biggest bottle of cold water they had in the case, took $40 out of the ATM machine and drove back to the interstate to loop around and get off at the exit again.
When I pulled up beside him and rolled down my window, he came over to the van. I handed him the bottle of water and he smiled, thanked me, and started to back away because the light had turned green. I stopped him though, took his hand, and put the money into it. When he looked back up from the money in his palm, his eyes were full of tears and he swallowed hard a couple of times.
The man thanked me and asked my name. He told me that his was Brian, and then he said that he would pray for God to bless my family as much as my kindness had blessed him. I cried all the way home that day. I cried when I told Mark about it. And I have to admit that I have to swallow hard and wipe my eyes whenever I remember how that worn down man was startled to tears by the kindness of a stranger.
I don’t remember where he was going or even if I asked… but I do know that in 10 minutes one summer, a man named Brian (who looked so much like my Uncle Pete) changed the way I look at strangers on the road.
I sure hope he got home.