I was ready to be home. I’d been in my office all morning and afternoon and I followed that with a long band practice that night. As I left the church, I debated making my customary stop at the nearby RaceTrac to take advantage of my free Sodapalooza refill. I decided to splurge and get a Dr. Pepper. As I walked out of the gas station indulging in my favorite soda, I caught sight of a disheveled man looking at the ATM. He was just standing there looking at it…no attempt to grab a wallet or reach into his pockets.
He noticed that I had noticed him and began patting the outsides of his pants and jacket as if he was searching for something. I immediately recognized it for the act that it was. I walked past him toward my car when I heard him speak up from behind me.
“Excuse me, sir.”
I turned around. He stumbled over his words as he began informing me he had forgotten his wallet at his house down the street. He spoke of his embarrassment. I mentally prepared myself to inform him that I didn’t carry cash.
“Sir, I’m so very hungry. I haven’t been able to find any food today. Would you mind if I asked you to buy me a sandwich?”
I was pretty shocked. I have a standing rule that I don’t give cash to strangers approaching me in parking lots. Both because I have no idea what their real intent is for the cash and also because it is genuinely a rare occurrence that I carry cash. I typically offer to purchase them some food, something to drink, put gas in their car…help them in the way they say they need help. Sometimes, people accept. Sometimes, people decline. Sometimes, people get angry. This was the first time someone had just asked me for food.
His eyes were sunken. He look tired and hungry. I couldn’t tell if he was as old as he looked or if a rough life had just taken its toll on his physical body. I asked him his name.
I laughed a little on the inside at his insistence on calling me, someone so very much younger, “sir”.
I took George inside. We stopped at the sandwiches in the cooler and I told him to pick one. He asked which one he could have and I told him whichever one he wanted. He looked for a second before settling on a simple ham and cheese on wheat.
“George, I don’t know about you but I don’t like sandwiches without chips. Why don’t you pick out a bag?”
He looked surprised but didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity. He talked about his love of BBQ chips as he grabbed a bag.
“You’re going to need to wash that down with something. Let’s grab you a drink.”
We walked over to the fountain drinks and I grabbed the biggest cup they had. “What’s your favorite?”
He looked at me and hesitantly responded, “Coke, no ice please, sir.” I filled his cup up and we walked to the counter.
“What’s your favorite candy bar?”
He stood for a moment staring at me like I was about to drop everything and walk out on him. He didn’t respond.
“Do you have a favorite candy bar? I can recommend a couple if you don’t.”
“It’s been an awful long time since I had a candy bar. I do like a Hershey Bar.”
I walked over to grab a Hershey bar.
I grabbed the Hershey bar and put it on the counter with everything else we had accumulated. I paid the cashier and asked her for a pen and a slip of paper. I wrote my name and number on the paper, handed it to George, and told him about the church right up the road that had breakfast on Sunday mornings and dinner on Wednesday nights. I told him to call me if he was hungry or if he needed a ride. He promised he would as he thanked me.
I didn’t buy that food for George because I’m a Christian. I didn’t buy that food for George because I consider myself to be morally superior. I didn’t buy that food because of any inherent “goodness” I have. I bought that food for George because he was a human being who approached me broken and hungry.
I didn’t ask George his thoughts on gay marriage. I didn’t ask George what his opinions were concerning the Confederate flag. I didn’t ask him how he intended to pay me back. I didn’t ask him his thoughts on the welfare system. I didn’t ask him when was the last time he held a job. I didn’t ask him if he was or ever was on drugs, when was the last time he possibly used drugs, or if he planned to use them in the future. I didn’t ask him who he voted for or if he could vote at all based on any criminal record. I didn’t ask him about any of his political or religious views. He didn’t seem concerned with mine either.
You see, while we were arguing about who has the right to marry who or which flag should be flown where…while we argued about whether or not a baker should be forced to make a cake for a wedding they don’t support, George wasn’t eating. I’m sure George would have eaten any cake he was offered.
I would give up my right to marry if it meant George didn’t have to go hungry again. I would stop flying any flag if it meant that everyone would not have to experience the deep pain of malnourishment. I have a feeling there are a lot of people who wouldn’t. The sense of selfish entitlement in this country, both amongst liberals and conservatives alike, is deeply embarrassing. It’s shameful.
Conservative Christians, you keep arguing that a man shouldn’t be allowed to marry another man. LGBTQ people, you keep suing those bakers who won’t bake you a cake. Northern liberals, you keep trying to outlaw a flag and southern conservatives, you keep daring to defend your right to fly it.
You do you. I’m going to go buy George a sandwich.