I pulled into the parking lot of the Ranchito Supermarket on 23rd Ave. and E. 16th and there was a man in tattered clothing, guiding me into a vacant spot. There were three open spaces, all next to each other, so I wasn’t sure what difference his work was making, but I figured, this man wanted to work for his change.
I had about a dollar fifty in quarters and gave it all to him, but I waited first to see if any of the other drivers he tried assisting would get his gist and hand him some change as well.
Afterward, I went my way, over to the taco truck parked in the same lot, figuring out what my last minute dinner plans would be.
The man wasn’t very far away. As I mulled over my order, he kept mumbling some indecipherable things. I tried to ignore him. At that point, I just assumed the man had lost his wits. But soon I realized his mutterings were actually directed at me.
The man saw me fumble with my wallet, dropping all my credit cards on the ground. This is embarrassing – I thought to myself. He and I are the only two men on this lot and I didn’t need to draw any more attention to myself. I just wanted to get my tacos, and go home.
In the midst of all the awkward pleasantries we were exchanging, I noticed he had started asking me for 2 more dollars. I told him I’d already given him a buck fifty – but this was an argument I would willingly lose as I slowly reached again for my wallet. I made up my mind that, at the very least, he’d get a meal’s worth out of me.
Then he took me aback with the following question: “Are you a Christian?”
He was right. I am. But I couldn’t figure out why he had suddenly asked. Perhaps he noticed my key chain with a fish insignia sewn onto the strap. Or perhaps, he had already made up his mind about something too – that he’d take a chance with me and ask for prayer.
I was tempted to look around to see who would see us, or who was already watching this exchange. The guys at the taco truck had seemed a little perturbed that this man was even hanging around by their business. But I wasn’t about to brush him off. Somehow, I felt I couldn’t.
So we prayed. My eyes were open. I was still keeping aware of my surroundings, wondering if they’d give me my order soon. I started off by lifting up “my brother here”, and quickly he corrects me.
“My name is Joseph.” I paused, acknowledging him, and we bowed our heads again.
I prayed that he would have something to eat that day, and a place to stay. That God would protect him.
It was brief, and though I recited a rather calculated prayer, I meant every word.
Joseph then went on to tell me a bit about himself. He sets up by the other taco truck on 22nd Ave., by the bridge. He uses cardboard, some tarp, and some plastic bags, and he sleeps under it. He admits he drinks a little, but keeps most of his money for food. He reiterates that he uses what he saves up for food. I then reiterate that he should. He had at least enough to get food right there and then at that taco truck.
At some point in our short conversation and after our prayer, Joseph had mentioned, shyly, that I was going to make him cry.
I brushed it off, of course. I didn’t need that kind of affirmation. Besides, that would have been really troubling for me had I gotten some sort of satisfaction from having made a homeless man burst into tears. Even if everything I had said and done were well-intentioned. I didn’t need that affirmation.
I say this, only because, I left Joseph at that parking lot, still not knowing what he wanted or needed. Only my change, and only for food.
But he also asked for my prayer, and perhaps more than that, my time. And if time was all I could give him, then I didn’t need to be affirmed, for anything.
Why be affirmed for giving something that any of us could willingly give?
Joseph didn’t leave me with a sense of indebtedness. He was grateful, but not desperately so. He was humble, but not without the nerve to ask for even more money than what he was already given.
I still think about whether or not more could have been done. If more on my end could’ve been given.
And while I figure, these are the sorts of questions I will wrestle with, the rest of my life, I hold onto what he’d left with me, and trust in what I had left with him. But between what we had given one another, I am more grateful for what he had given me – his name.