By Wayne Osborn
Driving home from work in a midnight downpour, I didn’t relish the thought of rising at 7AM for school. All I wanted to do was to get home, kick off my shoes, and relax on the couch for a few minutes while I ate a late night dinner. Sleep would be next on the agenda…I couldn’t wait! The rain was coming down like crazy, and even though I hurried across the apartment’s parking lot, I was soaked when I reached the stairs that sloped downward to my basement apartment. Rounding the corner to the right as I hit the bottom of the stairs, I noticed something unusual out of the corner of my eye. It was a body, curled up in front of the short hallway, which led to my door. My immediate thought was that it was someone I knew; maybe a friend who, finding me not home, decided to take a nap on my doorstep. Suddenly the body sat straight up! I took a couple of steps back, and said “Hey, what’s up?” I could see that it was a man…not a very big guy, probably around 40 years old.
“Is this your house?” he said quietly.
“Sorry ‘bout sleepin’ out here. I don’t have nowhere to go. I’s takin’ the bus down to ‘Lympia, and there’s some guys on that bus who was gonna take my money. Big dudes. So I just got off the bus right over there. Don’t rightly know where I’m at. I’s over at the church over there, but the guy told me I had ta leave. So I came over here, just ta get some sleep an get outta the rain. Sorry.”
It was cold. It was wet. The guy was sincere; I could tell. I just had a feeling that he was telling me the truth. He wasn’t dressed for the weather at all. No hat, no gloves, just a light windbreaker. I had to make a decision. I sized him up; he didn’t look that big. If he tried to attack me, I think I could hold my own. Of course, if he had a weapon…
“You want to come inside?”
I cranked up the heat. “Sure is cold out there. You must be freezing.”
“Yeah. It’s pretty nippy. I’m used to it, but that don’t make it no easier.”
I offered him a hot drink of tea and he eagerly accepted. For the next few minutes we engaged in small talk while in the back of my mind I tried to figure out what to do next. I was hungry, and I figured he must be hungry too. The clock kept ticking.
“You want something to eat?”
I popped a frozen dinner in the microwave. I learned that his name was Bill, he was a veteran, and he was subsiding on $298 a month. He had no fixed address. Bill ate the frozen spaghetti entree as if it were the finest cuisine that he’d eaten in a month. Maybe it was. I fixed myself a quick bite to eat as well, and sat in my living room eating a simple meal with a complete stranger. The rain continued to pound on the windows.
I remember a sense of calmness permeating my whole body, and as I looked at him in his flimsy clothes, I felt that I had to do something to help him. I also knew that 7AM comes mighty early, and it was already quickly approaching 2. I excused myself and walked over to my bedroom. Grabbing my bulky ski jacket, ski cap and gloves, I walked back into my living room and bestowed them on my surprise guest.
“Here, Bill, you take these. I think they’ll fit. They aren’t doing me any good right now. It’s freezing out, man.”
A look of nothing less than total gratitude swept over his face. I noticed tears welling up in his eyes as he extended his hand to me.
“Thank you. Thank you. I…I don’t know if I can ever repay you.”
“Someday you’ll be able to help someone else out who needs help. And when you do, you’ll have repaid me. Don’t worry about it.”
He tried the coat on. It fit, as did the gloves and the hat.
“C’mon, I’ll give you a ride down to the bus station.”
The last time I saw Bill, I was dropping him off in front of the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Tacoma at 3AM on a cold January morning. He walked off sporting my nearly new ski jacket, but at least he was warm, dry, and for now, safe.
It’s hard to tell who benefited more from our paths crossing that night. Bill came into my life for three short hours, but he helped me understand the depths of compassion that I have for my fellow human beings in peril. One person can make a difference. I will never forget that night.