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FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I was very excited when I received a FedEx package on Thursday morning. It contained the front cover for my first book, which the publisher was scheduling to release to bookstores in July.
I phoned my wife while driving to the pizza parlor where she was working. I was happy and wanted to eat lunch with her. When I arrived, I sat down in one of the far back booths with my clear, bubbly, caffeine-free Sprite and waited for her to finish the few tables she had left.
I sat looking out the large plate glass window and saw a man about 30 years old walking across the parking lot. He was carrying a pizza box that he had just purchased from one of the mini markets across the street. He walked into the restaurant and went directly to the counter where he ordered a large cup of water. Then he walked to the back of the restaurant where I was sitting and sat down at the table across from me.
I watched as he laid his dirty paper bag of clothing down on the floor and tried to straighten out the wrinkles so it did not look so bad. When finished, he took a napkin from the metal container, unfolded it and wiped his dirty hands. He took another napkin, placed it on the table and neatly laid down his silverware. He placed the fork to the right side of the napkin, and the spoon and knife on the other side.
There was no doubt this man was homeless and in need of a bath. He had not shaved for several months. His hair was extremely greasy, as was his skin and beard, and his clothing would have caught fire from the stench had someone lit a match.
He reached over, slid the one small slice of pizza out of its box and laid it on the napkin. Very slowly and very carefully, he began to eat the small meal, taking little bites. I sat there watching him out of the corner of my eye. I wondered how someone could buy a slice of pizza from one store and then have the nerve to bring it into another restaurant. Especially one that serves pizza and then sit down and eat it. That puzzled me so much that I just sat there for the longest time trying to figure it out. However, for some reason my mind would not let me think about it. The more I tried to figure it out, the more my mind kept running around in a never-ending circle of thought. For some reason, it was as if my mind was refusing to allow let me think about that kind of thing.
The dingy fellow finished his meal and then did something I will never forget. He picked up the box, turned it onto its corner and slid the few remaining pieces into one far corner of the box. Then he wet his index finger and began to pick up the small crumbs left in the corner. I could see his eyes roll back into their sockets as he closed his eyes and bent his head backwards trying to enjoy the few tasty crumbs that remained.
The muscles in my neck and my jaw began to tighten. My eyes began to burn and water when I saw him do that. Oh, how much it hurt me to look across that dining room and once again see myself as I was 38 years ago. That was a time in my life when I was cold, hungry and all alone. It was a time when I had no choice but to be dirty and not be who I really was. I had no family or friends to help me. I had no one to love me, no one who cared if I lived or died. I had no place to wash my filthy clothes, which had become hard, coarse and rough against my skin. I had no place warm to sleep and no place on this earth to be safe. God knows how much it hurt to again see myself at 13 years of age.
He tilted that small box to the side, just as I had done many times when I lived on the street. I ate every day from garbage cans and dumpsters, and bathed in gas station washrooms. I will never forget what that extra special moment felt like, to make sure that I had savored every crumb, every little morsel of food even if it was from the garbage can. I knew that I could sustain my life for at least another lonely day on this earth.
My wife finally came and sat down across from me. I immediately turned my head to the side, got up from the booth and walked to the server station. I put my tray onto the plastic kitchen cart and wiped my eyes so she would not see the tears. I did not know what to do and I did not know what to say. I felt so lost and helpless. I did not even know how to act, because I had never been where I was now. Most of my past life had been just like what I was now seeing in front of my very own eyes. My past was identical to that of the young man who sat right in front of me. My past life on the streets came back to me in a flash.
I grunted and coughed trying to clear my throat and get myself back together. Just then, my wife stood behind me and said, "Roger, go get that gentleman some pizza and some dessert."
I did not say a word, but walked directly to the counter and got four large slices of pizza, as well as several slices of dessert pizza. I walked back to the man, sat the pizza down on the corner of the table in front of him and said, "We will be throwing this away very shortly. I thought you might like to have a few slices."
He never even looked up. He only looked directly down at the table. I did not stop; I walked around behind him and returned to the waitress station. As I passed him, I reached out and touched him on the back very softly with my hand, just as I wished someone would have done for me 30 something years ago.
I hope that man knows that someone, somewhere, cares about him as a human being.
I do not know for sure what all those beating did to me in that orphanage and reform school. However, I am so thankful that this "little orphan bastard" never forgot what it feels like to be down, out, dirty and hungry. Moreover, I am so thankful that I grew up to be a man who will forever carry a tear in his heart for others.
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