One night in late spring 2015, my buddy John and I were sitting on my front porch talking while the womenfolk were inside probably swapping recipes and churning butter or drinking wine. Who knows… Anyway, John and I were solving some social injustice or reliving his glory days on the gridiron as we were prone to do when he and his sweeter than sorghum wife Robyn came for a visit. Then, a man who would greatly affect my outlook on charity emerged from the darkness.
A thin fellow appearing to be a few years younger than me came up the sidewalk in front of my house and said, “Hello, gentlemen,” as he veered off course and bushwhacked through my yard and into the shrubbery beneath the porch railing. He produced a stack of caseless DVD’s and asked if we’d like to buy a couple from him for $8 each. Coming off a recent negative encounter of being kind to another seemingly homeless fellow who showed up asking for assistance, I regarded him cautiously and wasn’t interested in buying old DVD’s even if he had been a boy scout ushered over by the Pope. I was into Blu-rays at that time.
John said, “Lemme see what you got,” and the fellow handed him the stack.
As John shuffled through the disks, our traveling salesman began telling us his life story. His name was Martin, and he was a Coast Guard veteran. Recently, he told us, he had been given a medical discharge and was having trouble getting his back pay from the time he spent in the hospital due to injuries sustained in a firefight while he was stationed in Alaska. Then, he proceeded to lift his shirt and pull the waistband of his shorts down to reveal a combination of scars and fresh bandages.
My interest in his story rose at the revelation of his being stationed in Alaska because my best friend from high school was in the Coast Guard and was also stationed in Alaska at several bases on boats, planes, and helicopters. I’d never heard my friend talking about any aggression toward or from anyone, but Martin was talking fast and almost immediately distracted me from my puzzlement. I did eventually ask Martin where he’d been stationed and who he’d been fighting up there, and he responded that the Eskimos were upset that the oil companies were drilling on their lands and regularly shot at the oilfield workers. I couldn’t dispute his story without some research and felt bad for him because his scars and wounds looked legitimate. So, I let it slide until the next time I could talk to my friend.
He changed the focus quickly by engaging John again, asking if there was anything he saw in the stack of DVDs that interested him, and John agreed to buy a couple from him. Wanting to do something to help him myself, I told him to come back in a couple weeks and I’d pay him to do some work for me in the yard. Martin then thanked me profusely as he waded backward through the hedges and said he’d be back for sure and he would work really hard for me.
After he slid back into the darkness, we sat on the porch feeling good about showing some love to somebody that was down on his luck because: Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Then, sure enough, one Sunday morning a couple weeks later, that no-good-son-of-a-bitch knocked on my door offering to cut my grass and trim my shrubs…
to be continued…