“One cold January night, over 15-or-so years ago, I was driving from a friend’s place to pick my wife up from her work. She was working a closing shift on a game night at a major downtown parking lot near the stadium and was done for the day.
Game nights were always bad for her; picture hundreds of cranky (and often intoxicated) drivers trying to leave the lot all at once, and then blaming her for having to wait in line. This night wasn’t likely to be different, except I was running late, it was cold, she would have already been waiting outside, and we’d still be facing a 45-minute drive home after I picked her up. I was not off to a good start.
As I approached a red light, I noticed an elderly homeless man standing by the traffic island. As I stopped, he walked up to me. I knew I had absolutely no cash on me, but I politely rolled the window down anyway, which immediately reminded me of how cold it was outside.
He was shivering, definitely not dressed for the weather, but he produced a bouquet of flowers and held it out.
‘I am sorry to bug you sir, and I hate to beg for money. So would you like to buythese flowers instead? Anything you can spare is ok,’ he said.
I’ve no idea where he got that bouquet, but I noticed he had it out long enough to grow a thin coat of frost all over the flower petals. I had no heart to tell him I had no money on me, even though it was true, I felt that it wouldn’t come across that way. So, while pretending to fumble through my pockets, I asked him why he wasn’t at the shelter. He said he didn’t make it in on time and they had already closed for the night.
The light changed to green.
I can’t imagine what I would’ve done if I were in his shoes, but standing in the middle of an empty intersection, at midnight, on a freezing January night? Selling flowers to random motorists? Probably not an idea I would have entertained.
I explained I had no money and drove away.
This guy clearly had no other options, but I had. I could have found an ATM and got the man enough money for a place to crash. In fact, the idea crossed my mind. But in spite of feeling absolutely awful, ashamed to be sitting in a vehicle, knowing I would be sleeping in a warm bed that night, I did nothing.
I tried to rationalize by telling myself my wife had a bad night, I was late to pick her up, and his problems were his, not mine. But it didn’t make me feel any better. And by the time I picked my wife up, I was disgusted with myself. I told her what happened, turned the vehicle around, and headed back to find the guy.
She wasn’t too thrilled about how her evening unfolded so far, and now I was about to spend an extra 10 minutes driving us in the wrong direction. And when I mentioned an ATM, I was told that under no circumstances I was to stop for cash ‘for some drunken homeless guy who won’t get a job.’
I shut up but kept driving.
When we got to the intersection, the guy was still there. He was standing alone, flowers in hand, shivering so hard, we could clearly see it from afar. I walked out of the car, took my expensive down jacket from the rear seat, and put it over his back.
‘I am sorry, I really don’t have any money to give you, but at least you won’t be as cold now,’ I said.
I’ll never forget the look on his face. It was too long ago for me to remember his exact words, but he said something along the lines of ‘No matter how cruel life is, there are still good people out there.’
He handed me the frosty flowers, but I wouldn’t accept them. Then he walked over to the passenger side of the car, handed them to my wife, and said she had a kind man. As we drove away, she saw the flowers had frost all over them and choked up.
That night, my wife became a better person and never spoke about the homeless the same way and I got to sleep that night.”