Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Guy in Front

Today on the highway someone slowed down unexpectedly in front of me. I had to slam on the brakes, hurling all the stuff on the front seat to the floor. I managed to swerve to the shoulder and did not rear end the car in front of me. It brought to mind a similar highway incident over ten years ago.

I was on the highway with a semi in front of me and a semi approaching me from behind. The truck driver in front of me realized he missed his exit, came to a complete halt, and appeared to want to back up to get to the ramp! I could not go around him because the left lane was full of traffic, and in the rear-view mirror I saw the approaching truck getting more massive in the reflection by the split second. I thought, This is it. My three children in the back seat and I are going to be pancakes. I began to scream what I hoped was a prayer. The approaching truck was able to veer off onto the exit ramp that the idiot in front of me missed. He came to a stop next to my car. I looked over at him and then put my head down on the steering wheel. Death had been so close.

I think often of those two truck drivers--forgiving one and thanking the other. Sometimes our thoughtlessness causes pain for others. Sometimes our foresight rescues others. Sometimes we are just in the middle, helpless, and praying for release. It is hard being in the middle. We like to think of ourselves as ones with the presence of mind to avoid a tragedy. It is humbling to realize that sometimes we are only thinking of our own dilemma and not realizing how it is adversely affecting others. We might be like the guy in front.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Penny and a Smile

A businessman strode down the sidewalk full of thoughts about meetings and decisions for that day. His pace slackened, and he scowled when a beggar approached him. The ragged man held out his hand. In it was one shiny penny.

"Please, sir, take this penny from me." Then he smiled warmly. Taken aback that a beggar would be giving things away, the man took the penny automatically, too distracted by the oddness of the situation to hear him wished a good day by the homeless man. The businessman tossed it a few times as he continued down the sidewalk and put it in his pocket.

When he pulled his hand out of his pocket, the penny was still in it. He tried to drop it in again, but it stayed there. Thinking there was something sticky on it, he examined it. It was clean and slick. He decided to just throw it away. It would not leave his hand. He put his hand back in his pocket. He drew it out again. The penny was still there.

By now he had reached his regular coffee stop. Noticing the "Give a penny, take a penny" dish, he tossed the penny in the bowl. There it lay. But when he reached for his espresso, there was still a penny in his hand. Puzzled, he put his hand in his pocket and took the coffee with his left hand. He took the penny out again and put it in the dish. Now there were two pennies in the dish, and there was still a penny in his hand. He shrugged. "Lots of extra changed today," he said to the cashier.

At work the penny stayed in his pocket, but he could feel it there and found he was turning it over in his fingers during several boring meetings. Annoyed with himself for fiddling with it, he slyly walked up to a co-worker who was concentrating hard before his computer. "A penny for your thoughts," he said, and smiled coyly. The co-worker just rolled his eyes, but he took the penny. Sighing with relief the man moved on, putting his hands in his pockets as he slipped around the corner. There was a penny in the bottom of the pocket again. He peeked around the corner. His co-worker was back to work, apparently unhindered by sticky pennies.

All day long he tried to get rid of the penny. He included it with his tip at lunchtime. He gave it to a cute kid on the street. He washed his hands to see if there was residue on them. Nothing worked. There was always a penny still in his pocket.

On the way home he was still fingering the coin in his pocket when he saw the same homeless man that gave him the penny in the morning. The man was sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, his head bowed down. Perhaps he was asleep. Just as the businessman reached him, the beggar raised his head. The businessman reached down, smiled broadly, and put the penny in his hand. The beggar smiled back, a childish innocent smile. The businessman laughed.

Once the businessman was out of sight, the beggar put his hand in his pocket. He pulled out a whole handful of pennies and began to count. There was just enough for a pint or a hot meal. For the third day running, he chose the hot meal.