A Homeless Man Walked Up to Me Last Night

Homeless man with shopping cart filled with his belongings.

Normally when one approaches my window, I immediately slink in my seat, and if my window is opened, I’ll instinctively shut it. Nowadays you can never be too careful with people approaching your car without a clear intention.

This time, however, I happened to be at a Burger King. After I made my order at the menu board, I saw him trying to catch me before I drove to the pickup window. I zoomed past him in an attempt to avoid an all-too-typical question for spare change.

See, I don’t ever hand a homeless person money. What’s the point, I think, they’re just going to buy more alcohol or cigarettes, they reek of it whenever they ask me for money. Living in Downtown Fort Lauderdale, I’ve sadly gotten used to being approached in the intersection while I wait for the light to change.

I stopped and waited behind the car at the window, and saw the man walking towards me in my rear view mirror. I smelled the alcohol before he even got my window. I cut him off at the chase: “Sir, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have any change to give you.” (I did, but I didn’t lie, I just didn’t have any change that I was willing to give him.)

However, this one caught me by surprise. “I don’t want any money. All I want sir is a small hamburger and a small fry. If you could do that, it would be awesome.” I paused for a moment. “That I can do,” I replied. The man looked puzzled; I figured he had been brushed off many times by the people before me, just as I was prepared to do as well out of habit.

I waited for my turn at the pickup window, and when the employee opened it, I asked if she could throw a Whopper meal with a Coke on to my order “for the man outside.” She raised her brow, “I’m sorry, but we don’t serve walk-ups.” “I understand, and trust me, I wouldn’t want anyone walking up to the window either. I’ll give it to him myself.” “Sure thing,” she replied, and motioned to her co-worker for an extra Whopper.

As she closed the window, I looked for the man who was behind my car a moment earlier. He disappeared, and I figured he assumed I’d fall through and walk off. Still, I waited for both my order and the man’s as I watched through the window at the girl preparing the food.

The employee scooped fries into the cups, and was about to put them into the bag until she paused. She looked at me and looked at the fries, then dumped the fries out. She then walked to the window and opened it, saying “tell you what, I’m going to make you some new fries if you can wait a few minutes.” “I’d appreciate it,” I replied. She went back to making the new fries.

Then I did some thinking… Giving shouldn’t be an act of compulsion or a government-mandated requirement in the form of taxes and “spreading the wealth around.” When you give out of compulsion, it becomes a burden (even if you choose to ignore it or deny labeling it one), and you will be giving for the wrong reasons. You’ll also become less inclined to give the more you feel compelled to.

If there’s one thing I can always remember from church, it’s that God will always meet the needs of a “cheerful giver.” [This is why many churches like mine forgo the collection plate and instead install boxes near the doors; and you know what? You’ll find people give more when they’re not asked to or feel guilted into doing so.] I’m not saying you’ll never have problems again, but when you are truly in need, what you give will be returned, but only when you give cheerfully. Others may call it karma.

The woman opened the window and gave me two bags and two Cokes. “This one is yours, and this one is for the gentleman in the front,” as she motioned to the corner of the building ahead of me. I thanked her and drove forward.

Sure enough, the man didn’t leave after all, he was just… waiting. “Sir, I hope Coke is all right. I wanted to ask but you had walked away.” The man’s eyes widened. “Wow! I wasn’t thinking you’d get it. That’s really cool!” I smiled back, “I hope it helps. You take care, and God bless.”

As I began to drive away, I saw the man stumble back to the sidewalk in front of Burger King, bend over to place the items on the ground almost knocking over the drink in the process, and then start to sit Indian-style. He opened the bag and began to eat, then waved in thanks as I passed the restaurant before getting to the intersection and heading home.

The next time you give, give cheerfully.