The other day as I was rushing to return a rental car and catch a flight I remembered I needed to fill the gas tank — making my schedule even tighter. As I hurried into a gas station and pulled up to a pump I noticed a bearded man with tattered clothes warily shuffling up to the trash can just behind me.
I hurriedly began pumping gas while idly watching him reach into the bin and pull out a nearly empty ice cream sundae cup which still had a few remnants of chocolate syrup on the rim. He took his finger and carefully gathered it on his finger. Then he licked it with a satisfied smile.
He then bent into the can again, found an apple core, and ate every bit of it. Next he rustled around deep in the garbage and found an empty bag of Fritos. Very carefully he dusted the remaining crumbs into the palm of one hand and eagerly ate them. Continuing, he found several more remnants and polished them off with vigor.
When the pump shut off I looked at the meter — $50.00 — and then remembered the apples, bread and crackers I had bought for my lunch while on the plane.
As he turned his back to shuffle away I called “Sir, can you wait a moment?” He stopped as I went to my trunk, opened my carry-on and got out the lunch I had prepared. It was very simple. As I turned and looked into his face for the first time, the hard life he lived was evident, but there were tears flowing from his eyes. In a simple, disbelieving way he said, “No one ever calls me ‘Sir'”.
When I handed him my simple lunch his face broke into a broad smile. “Is this really all for me? Thank you so much!”
Just as I pulled away from the pump I remembered another apple and more than half a loaf of bread packed in my suitcase for a later meal. I stopped the car, opened the trunk again and got out these items. As I did so I spied the “prize”: a package of two Chocolate Prunecake cupcakes from the Loma Linda Market Bakery. For more than 60 years those have been my favorite dessert, and I only rarely have a chance to get them!
No, I couldn’t give those away.
Yet, I felt compelled to do it.
By the time I closed the trunk with items in hand, he had disappeared. He couldn’t have shuffled far! Then I caught a glimpse of him walking away from the station on a street going the opposite direction I needed to go. Quickly I drove his way, rolled my window down and called called out. He looked up, smiled, and came tentatively toward the car. “More for me?”, he asked.
With a look of total surprise, he took the items, as I wished him God’s blessing. I was anxious now to make a quick u-turn and hurry off to the airport. But before I had a chance he said, “My name is Ed, and some people call me ‘Special Ed.’ What is your name?”
I told him.
I will never forget his next words. “Fred, God used you to bless me today. I have enough real food that I will not have to hunt again for two days. Thank you so very, very, very much!” Then, holding up the cupcakes with a joyous smile, he stated, “I am going to share one of these with a friend who has no legs.”
As I drove quickly to the airport I could not hold back the tears. Who really got the blessing by this chance encounter? The words of Jesus still ring in my ears: “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40 NLT)
When I checked-in at the airport, I discovered my flight was delayed and I was in plenty of time! I am so glad I took the time.