I was driving home from a Costco trip, kinda bummed because I had spent way too much money (as always). As I approached the last intersection before my house, I was stopped by a red light. Two men crossed in the crosswalk, both on bikes. I assumed by their dirty, bedraggled appearances that they were homeless. This assumption was further fueled by the collection of bottles and bins and bags they had taped and secured around their bikes.
The first man crossed, pedaling fast and hard, trying to make his way before the stop light changed and the rain that threatened dumped on him. The second man crossed, taking a more leisurely approach, peddling slower, his rosy face aimed towards the sun that was trying to peek out among the clouds.
I watched the second man. Although I have always had a soft spot for the homeless this was the first time I saw a man in this situation, not as he is now, but as he might have been years before. I imagined him as a twelve year old boy racing his bicycle down the road with his friends. Maybe they'd be delivering newspapers or perhaps trying to get to school before the first bell rang. His hair would be darker, his face would be cleaner, and there would be optimism in those blue eyes as he thought about the future ahead of him. This thought made me immeasurably happy because to me, he was no longer nameless or faceless. We had both shared a common historical thread; we had just wound up in different places.
I continued to watch. He smiled into the world; a beautiful beam of peace that preceded his slow peddling. I smiled too. He caught me. Normally, I would have turned my head, not wanting to make him feel like a spectacle. The lessons of my elders always play in my head, "don't stare, and don’t point." But this time was different. I just continued to watch, my head following his path, that trace of a smile sticking to my face. He seemed so happy and content, even though he had nothing and I had a carload full of Costco goods.
As he pulled out of my sight and onto the sidewalk he turned to me, saluted, and shouted something I couldn't hear. I rolled down my window, certain he would ask me for a dollar or tell me that I had blown a tire. Instead he said, "Thank you for that beautiful smile. It made my whole day." Then he tipped his worn hat to me and rolled away.
It's moments like this that put my life into perspective. How is it that we live on this planet full of people, yet continue to ignore those around us? Is it out of a desire to 'be nice' or out of defense? I will ponder this as I go about my day. And maybe I will smile at more people.