The following is a fine piece of writing by my friend Rusty. I’m sharing it here with his permission. ~ Mickey Henry
Last week after leaving work I was in a very good mood and had finally gotten a little bit into the Christmas spirit. The traffic was terrible (at least from a country boy’s point of view) and I was anxious to see the city limit sign that greets me every week day on my way home from work. When I see that sign it means that I’m on a four lane highway and can set my cruise control and move along at a healthy pace to the house. Besides that, this was Friday and I didn’t have to work Saturday. Life was good.
A few miles before I got near my blessed sign I noticed an old man digging in a dumpster behind a little restaurant that I frequent. As I passed him I thought to myself, “I’m not usually one to support panhandlers but there is something about this old guy that seems genuine. After all, he’s not sitting on the sidewalk sipping a beer and smoking a cigarette and begging for money. He’s looking for something to eat. ” I thought about the nice Christmas bonus I had received just a few hours before I left work and the cozy home I was headed to. All my modern conveniences flashed through my mind and the more I thought about it the more pity I had on the old guy. I decided to keep going and forget about it but I couldn’t get him out of my mind. Finally I turned around, drove to the ATM and got a twenty dollar bill out and headed back to the dumpster.
When I pulled into the parking lot where the dumpster was, the old fellow was still there, digging as intently as a terrier trying to find last weeks bone. He was ragged and old and looked about as rough as any human being I’d ever seen. His clothes were old and torn. The seat of his pants was all but completely gone. He had a piece of dirty cloth tied around his head; I suppose to keep his ears warm. The cloth went under his chin and was tied at the top of his head. His face was wrinkled and I wondered if he looked that way because of his age or if he was really much younger and just time or weather worn. He could have been fifty five or seventy five as far as I was concerned.
Trying not to startle him I walked up to the dumpster slowly and quietly. He kept working as if I wasn’t there. I got almost close enough to touch him and whether he knew I was there or not he never acknowledged me. Finally I asked, “How do you do?” He turned away from his treasure trove and said, “I’m good! How are you?”
“I’m ok.” I said.
I asked if he was looking for something and he said yes, that he had been given permission to get all of the leftover meat he could find out of the dumpster and he then feeds it to local stray dogs.
“Well, that’s a good thing to do.” I said.
After that things were a little awkward. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I pulled the twenty out of my shirt pocket, handed it to him and said, “Here, I want to give you this.”
He then got the strangest look on his face. At first it was a look of appreciation, as if my gesture had really warmed his heart, like maybe he was pleased to find that someone would care enough to give him something. But then things went in a way that I would never have dreamed that they would. He got an irritated look on his face and in a sort of grandfatherly way said, “Son! Don’t you go giving these people around here money like that! Don’t you know that they’ll just go buy beer and cigarettes with it?!?!”
I’d love to have a picture of what my face must have looked like after he said that. The “man in control,” the “hero with the cash,” the “rich guy” with the big Christmas bonus and the twenty dollar bill was being corrected by someone who was going through a garbage can. Didn’t he know that I was “better” than him? I didn’t say it or even think it but isn’t that what I was implying?
“Well, you’re not going to buy beer and cigarettes with it are you?” I asked, with a nervous laugh. “No!” He declared. “‘I’m not going to take it!” Then he pointed to my car and said, “It takes a lot of money to run that thing. Take that money and put some fuel in your car. You and your family need that money son!”
The plans I had of possibly giving him the Gospel and telling him about Jesus faded from my mind like smoke that had been pulled into a window fan. I stood there feeling like an idiot. I knew that anything and everything that I had thought I might say to him would only seem to him like the stammering and stuttering of a foolish “young” man who obviously made it a habit to go around supporting vagabonds. I also realized that because of his appearance and his way of life I had assumed that I was blessed far and above what he was. But was I? Am I?
I bade him farewell.
On my way home I pondered these things and I learned some things about myself that I really didn’t want to admit; some things that you would never had made me believe before. I saw a materialism that I had never been able to detect on my own. I’m no snazzy dresser and I never put on airs. I don’t have a huge house or a ski boat (not that there would be anything wrong with it if I did). But somehow I had bought into the American idea that if people don’t have the conveniences and cash that I do, they are “poor.” This is a lie and perhaps even a uniquely American lie at that. This is a lie that our ancestors, at least mine and most the common folk of the Southron united States (and common folk all over this nation, I imagine), did not buy into. You might argue that it’s because they didn’t have the abundance we have today that they didn’t buy into this lie. But I believe it’s also because they knew better. I pondered my family; the old ones, the family I knew that is now gone.
My great grandfather came to my mind. He lived in a little shack of a house with an outhouse down the hill. One of his sons tried converting one of his closets into a bathroom for him. He got the commode put in place and all the fixtures he needed and then left the rest for Grandpa to do. But it was a project never finished. He used an outhouse until the day he died. “Mr. Nate” was one of the happiest old men I’ve ever known. He used to sit and tell me stories about his youth while he puffed on Prince Albert tobacco in his cheap convenience store pipe. He kept the rest of the house blocked off from the room on one end of the house where he had a pot belly stove for heating and cooking. He never considered himself poor and would have been quite offended if you had considered him that way. With a roof over his head, a bowl of tobacco, an occasional drink of whiskey and chickens running around in the yard he had everything he wanted. And by the way, his Prince Albert cans were some of the most fun “toys” I ever played with.
My father’s father came to mind also. He didn’t want anything really. He owned a garage in a small community and was often snubbed by many who had lots of cash (or at least pretended to) and many of them owed him money and wouldn’t pay him or even look in his general direction when they drove by. If he worked on someone’s vehicle and replaced a part that turned out not to be the one they needed, he would drive the ten mile trip back to town to get the one they did need and would only charge them for the parts and labor that he had used to replace the faulty part. When he died he left behind nothing but a couple guns and an old car that was worth nothing much. But in my heart he left behind memories that could never be replaced with anything else. I learned a lot about love in my early years from that man. Every kid in our neighborhood called him “Papa”, even the ones who weren’t related to him. He died in 1977 and to this day I miss him and I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think about him.
The century we have entered and the future that we are facing could very possibly (probably?) bring an end to the world as we know it. Unless God intervenes we will see the death of the West, as we are plagued with a failing economy and the curse of Babylonian multiculturalism as people from other nations come in and buy (with our government’s aid and approval) our homeland right out from under us. I’m no Dispensationalist and I’m not waiting for the “rapture” (a “rupture” maybe). But if you can’t read the signs you are blind, deaf and dumb or you have your head in the sand. All of the people I know my age and older grew up without smart phones and PC’s. Most of us spent the first part of our lives without color TV and air conditioning. Some of you have used an outhouse. Were we “poor” once upon a time? I believe we were richer. As a matter of fact, I know we were. We believe (and rightly so) that the lazy bums living off the government and the ones panhandling on the street corner could learn a lesson from the old guy I met at the dumpster. But can you and I learn something? May we all by God’s grace learn once again as Americans and especially as Christians, to know what it is that makes one “poor” and what makes one “rich.”
Philippians 4:12 – 13
4:12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.