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How A Homeless Man Made Me Fight Back Tears

Timmy Lanier
I’m not a crier at all.  I may have cried 2 or 3 times since the age of 13 (which is a horrible thing)- that’s all.  That being said:
I was in Lakeland, Florida one afternoon and stopped at a convenience store in a not so good part of town.  It was actually close to downtown in an area where the homeless population is the largest.  The area is lined with shelters and there is a Salvation Army service center in the midst of it all.  I stopped to run inside and buy a bottle of water but it wasn’t until after I parked that I began to question my decision to stop at this particular store.  There were homeless people gathered in all corners of the parking lot and next to the entrance of the store.  I did a quick scan of the area before getting out of my car for my own safety.  I saw people looking in my direction seemingly waiting for me to get out of my car so that they could ask me for money. 
As apprehensive as I was, I chose to still get out of my car to buy water- I guess that my thirst was strong enough to make me overlook the discomfort of my surroundings.  Sure enough, in the short maybe 20 foot walk from my car to the store, 2 people approached me and asked for money.  I politely declined both as the strong smell of alcohol and cigarette smoke permeated their breaths and clothes.  It was the third man though, that was able to get my attention.  He was a white gentleman, very thin, maybe in his late 50’s or early 60’s (it was hard to tell as life seemed to take a toll on his appearance).  He was dirty, unshaved, and had a strong sweaty odor.  He approached me with tears flowing down his face from both eyes and in the most begging voice said, “sir please… I haven’t eaten in 3 days.  Can you
please buy me something to eat.”  I opened my mouth to ask him what he wanted and apparently he was so used to people immediately responding “no” or “I don’t have any money” that he cut me off before my voice could say a word and he said, “I don’t have any money to buy food.  This is the only place that will cash my check and every time I get my money, they beat me up and take it and leave me with nothing.” My heart dropped because here was a grown man coming to me crying and begging, not for money, not for booze, not for cigarettes… for food.  His arms were amputated- one above the elbow and the other just below the elbow which explained why he could never 
stop anyone from stealing his money or defend himself.  I asked him what happened to his arms, and he said that he lost them in the war.  He’s a vet.  He served his country in battle and was dismembered in the process.  I don’t know his story.  I can’t say why he's out on the street like he is, given that he is a vet.  PTSD? Drug addiction? Casualty of an unforgiving society for those who served in Vietnam? Regardless of his circumstances, all that I could see was a very thin, obviously malnourished man in tears, starving, and begging for just a little something to eat. 

I put my hand up to stop him from pleading so hard, trying to convince me not to turn him away as I’m sure that he had become so accustomed to people doing.  He stopped pleading and I asked him, “what do you want to eat?”  He looked at me in shock, like he expected me to deny him and couldn’t believe that I was willing to help.  He said, “anything… like maybe a can of potted meat?”  He wiped his tears and runny nose with the back of his hand looking at me like a little child; this grown man.  I went into the store and bought 2 cans of potted meat and brought them back outside.  The man had walked and stood just a few feet from my car waiting for me to return.  Not really thinking about it,  I handed the bag to him and he raised his arm for me to place it in his arm pit.  He looked at me and kept saying “thank you.”  Coming back to my senses, I said, “wait a minute…how are you going to open the cans and eat the meat?” He said that he would get someone (one of the other homeless people) to help him.  Afraid that they would steal it from him, I told him that I would open the can for him, and he leaned forward for me to reach for the bag that was wedged into his armpit.  I opened the can and asked him how was he going to eat it.  He told me to sit the can on the ground and asked me to open the second can saying that he was very hungry.  I opened the second can and placed it on the ground next to the first.  The man got down on his knees, leaned over, used his longest remaining arm stump to keep the can from sliding, and ate out of the can like a dog.  I felt the corners of my mouth turning downward and my lip trembled.  I swallowed 3 large gulps back to back to back fighting hard to keep tears from falling.  I got into my car and reversed out of the parking space watching this man, this vet, eat off of the ground like a dog.

We often allow little raindrops that fall at inconvenient times become huge thunderstorms that block us from being able to see the sunshine of how blessed we really are.  I went back some months later and drove back to the area and even pulled into the store parking lot looking for the man.  I didn’t see him and I walked up to a group of homeless men standing near the entrance of the store and asked if they had seen the man with no arms that’s usually near the store and they said that he had recently died. 

No matter the storm… if you’re reading this, you’re blessed.
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