Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. – Christian Scriptures, Hebrews 13:2
Today was a poignant day for my husband and me. We were driving home from Greensboro to our little wide spot in the road near Hillsborough, and we stopped at the rest stop between the two. We travel with our new puppy these days, a feisty little Westie, and so we made a pit stop for him. As soon as we got out of our car, a young man came up to us and asked if he could speak to us. Like most people, I suppose, we were leery, but we’re pretty sappy about trying to help people, so we listened while he told us how he accidentally got locked out of his car with his two dogs in it, had to call a locksmith, who overcharged him $150, and now, he said, he had no money to get home on and asked if we could we give him some.
May I say, here, that in this country where panhandling has become increasingly common and seems to be a fairly organized enterprise, our first reaction was suspicion. I tend to be a bit resentful when people with pathetic signs about their misfortunes come up to my car at intersections to ask for money, and my first impulse was to be kind of irritated in this situation. Increasingly, though, I find myself thinking, in such situations, “well, why not?” Who am I to say whether a person’s need is legitimate, and what do I care if they want to spend my money on drugs or whatever? At least they will know someone looked at them kindly and gave them what they wanted.
Now, like most people, we don’t tend to travel with much cash, so we explained to him that we didn’t have any money to give him, quite literally, and I said to him, “If you have a need, it will be taken care of.”
“Oh yes, yes,” he said, “I’m a Christian, I know that.” My cynical side was already thinking, “Nice touch: he gets our sympathy by telling us he was traveling with his dogs who got locked in the car, and then he tells us he’s a Christian. That always gets ’em.” Meanwhile, an oriental man in the car next to us was hissing at us to ignore the young man: “He’s a professional.”
“How do you know?” I answered. In any event, we headed for the restrooms prior to taking our pup out, and my husband commented that maybe he had a couple of dollars. He looked in his wallet and sure enough, he had four whole dollars, so he headed back and gave them to the young man. Why not? He could, at best, only buy a bottle of Boone’s Farm with those few bucks. He said the young man said to him, “At least you didn’t ignore me. Most people have.”
I waited in the car while my husband took the puppy across the road to walk him, and I watched the young man busily walk up and down the path, steering clear of most people, occasionally entering the building, speaking to a few. When my husband got back in the car, I had been thinking about it for awhile, and I said to my husband, “So where are these two dogs? And can’t this guy call the police, or family members or friends and ask for help…or maybe the personnel at the rest stop could help him?” We decided to play social worker, and my husband got out and asked him about all these things. He reported that the man answered him in monosyllables, indicating that his dogs were “down there” (where?). He said he lived alone, indicating that he had no friends or relatives to help him. He answered all the other questions in monosyllables, and that was that. My husband said he seemed irritated to be so questioned.
We went on home.
This young man, who said he was from Scranton (and sounded it) could have been an ax murderer, an escaped prisoner, an angel, a drug addict, an ordinary panhandler, or he could even have been completely honest about what was causing him to have this need for people to give him money. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know which it was, but I keep thinking of something that happened to me many years ago, when I was on a spiritual retreat in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
The first few days of a retreat are always excruciating for me: I have a terrible time turning loose of the world, my body hurts, my mind races, I’m hungry, and all in all, I spend much time wondering why on earth I ever got myself into this mess. As I persist in my spiritual practice, eventually there will come detachment, and a rising, a disengagement with my body and my environment and my involvement in life. But it comes when it comes, and it takes brutally hard work, or at least it did in those days, when I was new to this meditative path.
So there I was, sitting on the side of the mountain, and it had rained and it was cold and damp and dreary and I was feeling sorry for myself and in despair of ever reaching the deeper stages of my retreat. I have found, always, that it is only when I let go, when I “learn to love wandering in the dark,” as is common to that first stage of the inner alchemical process, the stage of nigredo, letting go . . . when I opened my eyes and in the pasture below me, a young boy was walking across the field with a gun over his shoulder, and he saw me up there and turned and gave a casual wave . . . and suddenly, I had liftoff, as the saying goes. I moved into the higher reaches of the retreat, and I left the earth behind, like a balloon floating upward.
A casual event, one might say, but I eventually concluded that the young man in the pasture had either been an angel, Lord Krishna himself, or perhaps Khidr, the green one of eternal aliveness, angel or beyond the angelic, available to the sincere seeker and present at all initiation. When one seeks the divine, I was taught, one is always guided by the masters, saints and prophets of all the ages, and one never knows who will come to aid in the sacred quest. So I never entirely knew who that being was who strode across the pasture and turned to wave his magic wand over me as he passed, but I have my suspicions, and it really didn’t matter, because it worked. Such experiences can never be understood deeply except by the one who experiences them, but if the story is told, it may aid another.
It is because of such visitations, which have come at various times in my life, that I wondered who was this young man who asked us for money at the rest stop today. It really doesn’t matter, of course, but I’m rather glad that we gave him what we could. Who knows? Allahu A’laam.
7 thoughts on “The Green One”
My Truck Stop Adventure
In 1979 I took a cross country ride from California to North Carolina with a couple of guys in a Volkswagen van. Somewhere in Oklahoma we stopped at a truck stop. It was early in the morning and we were enjoying some morning cereal when a sorry looking woman stopped by the open side door of our van.
She looked poor and definitely stressed and asked if we could spare some money so she could get some breakfast for her kids. She pointed to her old green station wagon full of kids. She told us that she had driven to Oklahoma to pick up her husband who just got out of a mental hospital and now they had a long drive back home and her kids were hungry. She definitely looked to me like she needed help.
One of my travel mates, a sweet young yogi offered her a bag of uncooked oatmeal. I immediately knew that this was not going to work because how could she cook oatmeal at a truck stop? I gave her a $20.00 bill and she thanked me profusely and walked off. The guys were more suspicious than I was, and watched her make her way down the row of parked cars and end up at a parked big rig truck down on the end.
I don’t know what she negotiated with the driver but she opened the cab door on the passenger side and climbed in. We were speculating about what could be going on when all of a sudden the man who had been identified as her husband jumped out of the station wagon brandishing a rifle and ran down the row to the truck screaming at the truck driver.
The wife in some disarray jumped out of the truck and the truck driver very quickly drove away. The husband was still shouting and waving the rifle when I decided to make a mad dash for the bathrooms where I had earlier noted a public telephone (long before the cell phone). I made it to the phone and called 911 to tell them there was a man with a car load of kids waving a rifle at a truck stop.
Before the police could arrive the family piled in their station wagon and took off out of the truck stop. We were done with breakfast so we packed up and headed off on our journey.
A couple of miles up the road we came upon a scene. The station wagon had been pulled over into the meridian by three squad cars that surrounded it in three directions. Police with guns drawn were approaching the vehicle. We didn’t stop.
A great story that certainly reminds me of the days when we were all running around with our feet bare…. I particularly liked the guys’ reaction of offering a bag of oatmeal to the woman: what did they think she’d do, cook it on the radiator?
Judith, I’d be curious to know what meaning this has for you all these years later….
Well it was the only time in my life when I was confronted with a lunatic waving a shotgun. It seems much more commonplace now to hear of people with guns. I was surprised at how brave I was, that I risked running to the pay phone… perhaps it was foolish but I do think it stopped whatever craziness was going on with this poor little family stuffed in a station wagon. I hope they got to a better place that very day.
What impressed me was the guys who pulled out a bag of oatmeal, while you offered a $20. I thought that said quite a lot. It must have been terrifying, although I suppose it happened fast enough that you didn’t get much time to be terrified….
I traveled from Texas to Elizabethtown, New York in 1971, bothering people about Jesus. Had a dime because the cost of using a pay phone had risen so high. People were generous, helped me, gave me something to eat, probably hoping to shut me up, as if I couldn’t preach with my mouth full. I stole a jar of peanut butter once, believing it acceptable even to rob a bank, if I was serving God. A broken hearted man just out of prison for embezzlement paid for a motel room one night. A preacher in Brinkley, Arkansas first put me up in a hotel, then had me arrested when I persuaded the youth director of his church to forsake all and take to the road with me. 24 hours in a drunk tank in Brinkley, Arkansas.
When I was a boy, I wanted to be a hobo. This was back when they had long beards. I thought they might be Bible prophets. When I see people at the highway underpass where I live, I usually recognize them, having seen them at the same spot for weeks, months or even years. Sometimes I give them a dollar, if I have one. More often I try to time it so I don’t get caught there at the red light. Now I look like one of those old time hobos but I have a wife, children, home. Sometimes I feel a kind of shame, having lived this long, with still so little to give.
I love these stories….. But as to judging our capabity to give, I suspect we can’t possibly know what it is that we give every moment of our lives, nor what these lives of our mean. “For now we see through a glass darkly . . .”
You are right, Amidha. This is exactly what my wife, Carol, would have said.