Chance encounter or meant to be?
It was a dark, wintry night, the kind with squeaky snow under your feet and car tires. I had taken the kids to the big mall nearby for a special shopping trip. I hate shopping; but I did it for the kids. They really enjoy looking at all the cool stuff in the stores, while I grimace in thought of the price tags. After a few hours of somewhat manageable shopping we were done and ready to head home. Got in the van, rounded the bend leading out of the mall parking lot, and headed towards the main drag. I could see McDonalds golden arches in the distance. “I have a great idea”, I said to myself, “I can be a really cool Mom and treat the kids to a milk shake or fries.” I knew I had enough money in my wallet, something I very rarely did. Seemed I had grown used to having a semi-empty wallet, with an occasional twenty or ten, most normally a few singles keeping each other company. Tonight, I knew there was a twenty in there and wanted to make the evening a special one for the kids. This was going to be a great surprise. “How about we stop at McDonalds for a shake or something?”, I asked. Both kids cheered in agreement and I headed towards those magical, glowing arches. As I approached the stop light, I could see the restaurant’s parking lot across the street, a few cars parked under the street lamps in the darkness, the wind blowing snow around on the ground. There was a man. What? Was I seeing things OK? Yes, there was a man in the darkness, out in the cold, without much of a jacket on. He was walking through the parking lot, stopping at the garbage cans, looking inside. Looking for something to eat, I wondered? He was carrying a wooden stick with a cloth bundle tied on one end; like a hobo fresh off the train tracks. I watched him from the intersection as I waited for the light to turn. With “green” on my side, I pulled into the parking lot and found a spot for the van. The kids piled out and I looked for the man. He was at the end of the restaurant parking lot, looking inside another garbage can. Something inside me said “help him”. I walked toward the man and called “hello”, “are you hungry?” “I’d like to get you something to eat.” “Would that be OK?” “Come with us.” The man looked at me and walked towards me and the kids. I asked him again if he’d like something to eat and he said “yes”. I led the way inside the McDonalds and waited my turn for the counter. The man hung back by the doorway. I asked him what he’d like? “Cheeseburger and fries would be just fine, thank you”. I got the kids their milkshakes, along with a few cheeseburgers and fries. I gave him the bag and looked at him in the indoor light. He was fairly young, slight build, maybe around 30 years old, light brown hair, scared, but sincere eyes and a bruised and scratched face. He told me that some kids had beaten him up for fun and took his bag of stuff. Now, he said, he had to carry his belongings on the bundle tied to the stick. He had made the contraption himself and was very proud of it. I asked him if he had a warm place to stay and he said he would figure something out; not to worry. Another person gave the man a hot coffee. I wished the man a good night and asked him if he had enough to eat. He said he was “good” and “thank you for the meal”. He walked out of the restaurant back into the darkness and cold. Then he was gone. We walked to the van and I couldn’t see him anywhere. Where the heck did he go? Even today, I still remember his face. The cut on his nose and cheek. Dried blood and a bruised lip. My God, what do we do to each other? Seemed to me I had just looked upon the face of Jesus. I had the overwhelming feeling that this chance encounter was something special. A life experience that will stay with me forever. Whatsoever you do, to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me…..