I saw the boy as Dave and I were driving out the back entrance of the Starbucks parking lot. I’m amazed I noticed him at all because I was totally consumed with my iced grande soy latte. I’d been trying to get up the courage to try a soy latte for two weeks. But every time I stood at the counter and opened my mouth, some other order came out. Yesterday, however, after managing to gush my worries to the barista and hearing her assurance that I could dump it if I wasn’t delighted and she’d replace it for free, I went ahead and jumped off that cliff. And you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. They use vanilla soy, which apparently masks the fact that you’re drinking bean milk.
I was sipping and savoring and mmm-ing as we turned left out of the parking lot, but in the midst of all that I caught a glimpse of the traveler sitting on the right side of the road. I knew he was a traveler because he was thoughtful enough to announce it, to me and every other driver within passing distance. Traveling — Low on funds, his cardboard sign read. I’m not sure if it was the honesty of that sign or the fact that he had dreadlocks which drew me to him, but something did. (On the dreadlock topic — I’ve always been fascinated. I’m quite sure that if I were a twenty-something young man, I’d have them too).
I looked in my wallet and found a five-dollar bill with no immediate plans attached to it. “Mind if I give this to that boy?” I asked Dave. He didn’t. I pulled down my window and waited to catch the traveler’s eye. He grinned when he saw my outstretched hand and jogged over.
“Where are you headed?” I asked.
“Seattle,” he answered. And then, because he’s a traveler, don’t you know, and travelers have to make friends quickly, he kept talking. “I have a job interview there. I might stay. Or I might go north … or south. I don’t know.” He grinned, and that cinched it. I liked him. I actually wanted to take him home with us and make him a pot roast, but as we were talking in the middle of the street and the light had just changed and a line of cars behind me didn’t share my fascination with the boy, we had to part ways.
“God bless you,” I said.
He God blessed me right back.
My heart stayed on that street corner with the boy I would never see again. And all the way home, I hurt that I couldn’t bring him to our home and to our church. My reaction startled me. I’m not the first person to hand out money to sign-holders. In fact, I often suspect that when their day’s work ends, they hop in their somewhere-hidden Mercedes and jet off to their beach-front homes. I have no proof, mind you, but that’s my suspicion. From time to time, God nudges me to help someone, but until I feel that holy prod, I look the other way.
I grieved over my lost friend all evening, and thought about him again this morning. But it wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I made the connection.
Just a week ago, as I’d been pulling out of Starbucks again on that same back road onto that same street, a small blur on the pavement between me and the front car caught my eye. It was a mouse, and he was running for his life. For right on his heels came a (proportionally) giant black crow. Just as the crow was reaching his feet out to snatch the mouse, the big-eared, long-tailed little guy ran beneath the front car. Seconds later, that car moved. Not wanting to run him over, I scanned the pavement before moving forward, but he was nowhere in sight. It occurred to me that he may have hitched a ride on the undercarriage of the car — and I was right. After that car had turned left and gone twenty feet, the mouse reappeared, and skittered across the left side of the road. I looked up the road, saw an oncoming car, and held my breath. But the mouse made it to the curb unsquished. However, his troubles weren’t over, for the crow had been watching as well, and he flew from behind me and swooped right toward the mouse. I so wanted him to get away. I watched as he bounced against the curb — no doubt fighting panic — and lay dazed for a split second. He ran back, just barely missing the crow’s talons, and then ran forward again. But the writing was on the wall for this battle. Before the light changed and I left the scene, the crow had snagged his prey and flown off to enjoy his lunch.
The entire drama had played itself off directly across the street from where the traveler sat waiting. The mouse was long-gone, long-digested by the time that boy sat himself on the grass and penned his cardboard sign. But I must have made a sub-conscious connection.
It’s a great big world, and he was just one young man — a young man who reminded me of my own boy. A young man whose mother might be looking up from her stove somewhere and wondering if her boy is hungry. A young man about to venture into a world chock full of taloned predators. I know there’s an adventure involved, and I hope on his search he finds whatever he’s looking for. But I’m praying he simply lands somewhere warm and safe, and that at the end of his traveling, he knows he’s loved.
We’re all on a journey of some sort. May your travels today lead to joy.