I am curled up on the couch, reading, looking up occasionally to watch the blowing snow out the front window. Crow Peak, at the edge of Spearfish, S.D., is barely visible. I'm quietly contented, remembering the gathering of friends at our home last night. Lots of good food to munch, games to play, and people to grow closer to.
A phone call interrupts my reverie. It's my teenage son, Matt, calling from his cousin's, across town. His voice surprises me with its quiet huskiness:
"Mom, something kind of sad.... As I was walking over here, I was cutting through the parking lot at Safeway, and there was this shabby-looking guy standing out by the road with a sign saying he'd shovel snow for food."
Already in my mind's eye, his words paint a compelling picture. I look longingly at my cozy corner on the couch; at the same time, I hear my heart urging action. But, oh! sometimes it's so hard to fight inertia.
Matt reclaims my attention. "This is a heck of a day to be outside. It's the kind of thing that makes me feel 'there, but for the grace of God, go I.' I wished him well, but it's not much of a way to start the new year. Can we make him some food and take it to him?"
The tenderness in my son's voice stirs me out of the morning's gentle laziness. Cordless phone in hand, I head down the stairs to the utility room where most of our food is kept and begin asking Matt for ideas. Ours is not an overly full larder, but I know we can find the right things to share. As I search the shelves for items that will not need a stove or a can opener, my son remembers some camping supplies left over from a backpacking trip. He has just cleaned his room - a minor miracle - so knows just where to find them. I gather them up and make plans to go get my son so that he can come home and help me figure out what else to take.
I try to back the car out of the garage, but at first I just spin in the heavy drifting snow. I'm not sure I can even get out of our driveway. I continue the prayerful searching I began moments after my son called. What is right? What is needed?
ON my way, finally, I drive through the Safeway lot and can't see anyone matching the description my son gave me. After I get Matt, we retrace the path he had walked. He can pinpoint the exact spot where he'd spoken to the man. No one is there now. All we find is his sign - a square of cardboard lying on the snow, its black lettering clear: "VET - WILL SHOVEL SNOW."
We slowly circle the lot, searching. We wonder aloud what might have happened to cause him to leave and abandon his sign. Did a kind soul stop and offer him a job? But wouldn't he need his sign again, once the job was through and the food eaten? Or was it some kind of scam, quickly abandoned? In our town of 7,000, homeless, hungry people are not a usual sight on a street corner. We are concerned and perplexed.
We exit the lot and pass once more by the spot where the man had stood, less than an hour ago. We stare again at his sign, stark and bare, now half-covered by blowing snow and barely legible. It is the only proof that my son hasn't imagined him, out in the winter storm.
I drop my son back at his cousin's house and drive home, wondering what this excursion has been all about. From one perspective, we have failed. No food was delivered, no empty stomach filled. I confess, I had expected a different ending: our helping someone in need, and then the resulting warm fuzzies - my reward for doing good.
And yet our efforts don't seem in vain. Now I'm settled back onto the couch by the front window, right where I'd been when the phone rang a scant hour before, but I'm not the same. I'm certainly not taking my warm home and comfortable winter clothes for granted. And my food supply now seems plentiful, even abundant.
But even more important, the door of my heart is standing wide open.
Maybe this call for help was a dry run for something else that is coming up for our attention. Perhaps I needed to balance my appreciation for the previous night's gathering with an ever-fresh awareness that I might be called upon to reach out to someone who's on the outside, looking in.
A part of me that had been dozing is wide awake now, ready for the next winter visitor.