I hastily scribbled down this experience in a little notebook that I keep in my bag. Though I have to admit that sharing this with you might make me look “not so good”, I want to share it with you today. Because a-ha moments like this are too good to be kept to oneself. Hope you like it. 😉
The sun rose that morning without a hint that it would bring with it an extraordinary day, one that I would want to remember for a very long time.
It was a very ordinary weekday in June, filled with regular routines and more of the common stuff that makes up everyday life. My son and I were riding in our car on the way home from his school. We were going through the familiar route with nothing unusual, our car temporarily waiting out a red stoplight in one of the busy junctions that we normally pass.
There was a greasy hobo with a skullcap on his head, sporting a five o’clock shadow and unkempt clothes, leaning against the cement post under the flyover where our car happened to be idling a few feet away. I wouldn’t have noticed him, really, except that he happened to fancy throwing hand signals our way. Looking straight into the window of our car from about 5 feet away, he gestured animatedly with his hands. What his motions meant, I could not tell.
I chose to ignore his signals. I suspected he might be loony, perhaps more than a little bit off. I looked away, inwardly afraid and anxious for the light to turn green.
He fixed his gaze directly on my precious five-year-old son. A flicker of a smile crossed the rough terrain of his weathered face as he put a crooked finger on his lips, as though he was sharing a secret between just the two of them. Without missing a beat, my son waved and cheerfully called through the closed car window, “Hi!”
As though that was the only invitation he needed, the man limped closer to our car (only then did I notice the crutches supporting him beneath his armpits). Simultaneously, in perfect timing with every stride he made, I pulled my son closer to me, like a mother hen tucking her chick under her protective wing as she watches a wolf lumber close by. Our driver, an old man himself, motioned to the man with the usual hand gesture that drivers in our country automatically give to vagrants on the street knocking on car windows, that hand-signal that tells them No, please, go on your way… It is a sign which is, paradoxically, both respectful and uninviting, both accepting and cold, at the same time. It is a motion so commonly used and accepted in this third-world country of ours that no one even stops to consider how such a gesture can be both kind and mean at the same instant.
As the man turned and ambled back toward the spot that he came from, the palpable fear in me thudded a bit less strongly, relief quietly creeping back to the place once occupied by thunderous heartbeats. From under my arm, my son’s hand slowly crept up and tentatively waved at the sullen figure. Back at his post, the man waved back at my son and then looked away. There seemed to be a hint of sadness in his eyes.
And then it hit me.
What if this hobo was just being kind? Sure, he was a beggar, illegally strolling along the highway, breaking jaywalking laws as he asked for alms from passing vehicles. But he was also a man. A human. Perhaps he had a grandson just like my son? Perhaps it wasn’t a grandson, perhaps it was a son. Perhaps the last time he saw his son was decades ago when his little boy was the same age as mine? Perhaps—and it was entirely possible—I was romanticizing this incident too much?
But as our car moved away from its static spot, I felt a bite of guilt for being unkind and wary, if not in my outward demeanor then at least in some small part of my suspicious thoughts. I was ashamed of myself. For judging that this man was either dangerous or cuckoo, or both, because of the way he looked.
I shot a glance at my son, who had turned around in the car seat to face the back. He was trying to catch a last glimpse of that strange man on the street. I was tempted to tell him, “Don’t be too friendly, son. Be careful with strangers. Be wary about whom you trust. People who may seem nice may not always really be nice.”
But I kept silent. There’s the rest of his life to learn those equally valuable lessons.
That day it was I, more than three decades older, who had to learn from the pure heart of a five-year-old boy. This is probably what the Great Teacher meant when He said, “Unless you become like a little child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” To see others with the eyes of the heart—to fine-tune one’s vision so that it goes far beyond outward appearances and sees what lies behind, whether these are realities or mere possibilities—this is what gives the world its hope.
I have to admit. That day, my son and I took a ride, and along the way, for just a moment, he was a much bigger man than I was. I am in awe of the beauty and purity of his heart, so big for the little body that it rests within. And in overflowing gratitude for this eye-opening experience, I pledge to make a greater effort to view the world and its citizens—every single one of them—with the pure, innocent, loving eyes of a five-year-old child. My five-year-old little man.