For a dozen years I was an LDS Home Teaching companion to a fellow who was mentally handicapped. Harold was a wonderful man, full of childlike humility and love. His large stature was balanced by an equally large, continuous and genuine smile. His not always intelligible speech would always be clarified by his patient and repeated attempts to convey what he knew he was saying. But said in “Haroldspeak,” it would take more than a few attempts for me to understand. Harold passed away this past week. My wife and I, along with my little dog, Buddy Wu LI (He is a Schipperke, a Belgium barge dog), drove the 4 hours to St. George (Utah) to participate in and attend his funeral. I was privileged to say a few words. With my guitar, I sang a slightly altered version of the Mormon Primary song, “I Am a Child of God.” The funeral was not a sad affair, more a celebration of a special man. Indeed special: the first mentally handicapped boy in Utah (perhaps in the entire country) to earn the Eagle Scout Badge. Having a certain belief in Life after earthlife, I know I will one day reunite and celebrate with a now perfect, whole, and precious man.
But this blog was not intended to be about Harold. It is intended to be about the homeless hitchhiker I encountered at the halfway point rest stop near Cove Fort, Utah. As I walked into the small convenience store that sponsored the rest stop, a man in his late twenties was sitting on a bench in front of the store. His clothing was dirty and worn. Apparently all that he owned as he had the contents of a small backpack laid out on the bench beside him. There was a piece of climbing rope, something I’m sure he had salvaged in his travels, a cell phone taken apart with the battery outside of it. Again something I’m thinking he picked up. Some soda crackers, and small pieces of cloth were about all I could notice as I walked past him. As I looked at his face, his nose had a large recent scab from a fight or a fall. But what affected me most was the sadness reflected in his eyes. I recognized it. It was a sadness I had known earlier in my life. A hopelessness only those who have experienced could recognize. As I walked into the store, I felt haunted by those eyes. There was no anger in them, no hatred, no victim. Just a profound sadness. I encounter homeless from time to time in the small city I live in. They seem to notice me as they usually ask if I have a “dollar” to spare. It’s probably because I am usually wearing an “Affliction” shirt; or I just look like someone who understands Karma. But this man’s hand was not out and no query was offered. He seemed intent in examining the few possessions he owned. As I entered the small store, a parable I had been pondering earlier in the week came to mind. The setting for this teaching of Jesus’ was in the now-cleansed temple on Tuesday of Passion Week (The week before Easter Sunday). It would be Gethsemane on Thursday and The Cross on Friday. It was a parable that Jesus must have given with great love and concern for those He would soon leave. It ends with “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Having earned, through my alcoholism and addiction, membership in the “Least of These My Brethren,” club, daily encounters with this “social class” are more pronounced. When I left the store, I had to get the man’s attention to hand him the few dollars change I had. He immediately recognized me as the man who was “walking the little black dog and playing the guitar in the grassy area near the rest stop.” I had taken a moment to tune my guitar and practice the song I would sing at the funeral. His intelligent response and keen attention was unexpected. He said, “Do you have a leash for your dog?” I replied in the negative as I never put Buddy on a leash. He is more than obedient to my every command and request. The fellow reached into his bag and pulled out a quality retractable dog leash and offered it to me with the explanation that he had picked it up when someone had left it at an earlier rest stop. He had kept it thinking maybe he would encounter a stray dog in his travels. He offered it to me. I mumbled something about Karma and went back into the store for a bag of chips. I had to leave quickly. He would have noticed the tears in my eyes. I really wanted to just hug him and tell him that in Surrender to God he would be protected and things would be OK. With my purchase, I obtained some cash and, upon leaving the store, handed the man enough money to help him a little on his way. As I walked back to my car, I felt an almost overpowering love for this, just moments before, stranger. His parting gentle “Bless you” echoed through my mind as I drove away. I am sure I will never forget his sad eyes. Truly–he had blessed me; and, surely–He had blessed me!