My friends were driving home after a day trip to a neighboring town. They are almost middle-aged, successful in business, with children who “turned out well.” They live in a new rock, brick and tile house in an upscale neighborhood, shop at the best stores, drink the best wine, are members of a church with a large attendance, and are in fact happy, successful, and content. Their world is far removed from that world out there on the other side of the city, the one with homeless people and cardboard houses shoved together under overpasses.
As they were rolling along with the flow of traffic on the Interstate, their attention focused on an individual hobbling along the edge of the concrete. Although the sight of an old man making his way along a busy roadway wasn’t entirely unusual, something about this one stirred deep emotion in my friend. She said that the sight of this elderly man, ragged clothing, heavy pack strapped to his back, his feet shuffling along as he pushed a metal walker, was overwhelming. They sped on by, wondering what in the world he was doing out there on the freeway. He wasn’t trying to catch a ride. He never looked at the traffic. My friend turned and looked back at the stranger and then she nudged her husband.
“Let’s go back and see if he’s still there,” she said.
They exited the ribbon of steel and concrete at the next opportunity, circled under the highway and entered the trail of cars and trucks traveling in the opposite direction. Suddenly, they were surprised to find him on their side of the road! Somehow this old man on a walker had crossed over eight lanes of heavy traffic and was now traveling down the other side of the freeway. Joanne grabbed her husband by the arm. “Pull over” she said.
She got into the back seat of the pickup while Gene helped the old man into the passenger seat up front. He put the walker and the man’s backpack in the bed of the pickup and they were off. “Where are you going?” Gene asked and the stranger said he was headed to Denton. My friends weren’t planning to go to Denton but they exchanged glances in the rear view mirror and then Gene said, “Well that’s where we are going too.”
The following 45 minutes will not ever be forgotten by Gene and Joanne. As they rode along, the traffic seemed to part making the highway clear for them. When Gene unintentionally cut off a young man in a sports car, the other driver waved and smiled instead of shaking his fist and shouting cuss words in his direction. Their passenger began a pleasant conversation at first about the weather and then as the miles rolled away, he began to talk about troubles around the world, United States troops overseas, books and movies, and public education. He spoke with the mind of one who was well-educated, someone who had read many, many books and was up to date with the latest world news. Although his clothes were well-worn, they were clean and he appeared to be freshly scrubbed. He wore a long beard, but his face was youthful and his eyes sparkled as he talked.
In answer to their questions about why he was walking along busy highways, he said that he enjoyed traveling and meeting people and that he planned to go to Kansas as there was someone there that he needed to see. He didn’t say that he wanted to see someone. He said that he needed to see someone.
When they reached Denton, their passenger asked to stop at a convenience store so they went in. My friends bought sandwiches and chips which they gave to him and attempted to give him some money. He took the food but refused the money, saying that he didn’t need it because his needs were small. They left him there at his request, waved, wished him good luck and backed out of the parking lot.
The stranger started walking away, gave a final wave and turned back toward the highway. My friends circled the convenience store and looked for their traveler but he was gone! They drove back and forth around the area, but they never saw him again. He had just vanished. There hadn’t been time for someone else to pick him up. “I tell you that he was just gone.” Joanne said.
“Do you believe that angels are among us today?” Joanie asked me. “Because I think that he was an angel and that he came along that crowded roadway to see what people would do. He wanted to see what we would do. Would we take the time to help someone who looked like he truly needed it, or would we just pass him by in a hurry to do what we wanted to do?”
What do you think?