Edited from a photo by Thomas Bennie Unsplash
“His eyes were a doorway to forever.” Original Photo by Thomas Bennie Upsplash

I used to see a dirty and ragged man sitting at the light where I turned onto the freeway on one of the many routes I took to work back in the late 1990s. I couldn’t say he was an old man, neither could I say he was young. He had the look of another place.

It was easy to see that he was without home or without food and without the comforts that so many of us take for granted. There he would sit, waiting upon the kindness of strangers, the bare soles of his feet worn black and hard from having no shoes.

Many drivers would speed by him in the hopes that he hadn’t seen–that they hadn’t seen him. It appeared to me that if they acknowledged his presence, the same might happen to them. Or, if they looked at him, they would feel guilt and shame and be forced to give him something. So they gave nothing. They chose not to see him. He was not there.

I know because I pretended that I hadn’t seen him too.

He never asked for money. He didn’t carry a sign. He just sat with his back against the stoplight upon this asphalt island in the middle of the road, his head bowed and heavy with thoughts unknown to any but himself.

Sometimes I would drive a different way because I had nothing to give or I felt guilty because I was being selfish, clinging to my change for my next Venti Latte.

Then I couldn’t stand it any more. This man, this solitary person, this being that had the look of another place about him, stayed in my soul, quietly hovering. It was if something was telling me that I must give whatever I could.

I made the decision that day to drive this route, and no matter what anyone thought, I would no longer drive by this person without giving something. I dug down deep and laid the change upon the passenger’s seat and rushed to greet him, full of myself.

He was not there.

And so, when days passed and I took that route again and again, I made sure I always had change. Sometimes I would come with my hand full of my gift, this token, this toll I would gladly pay hoping to make a difference.

I would reach my hand out the window and his would meet mine in mid-air. He would say thank you ever so quietly and humbly and briefly look into my face with warm brown eyes that quickly found the ground.

He had the eyes of a child–of an innocent–no malice lived there.

Then I would continue my day feeling just a little bit lighter.

One morning when the sun rose to greet the dawn, and the cars struggled like so many cattle pushing through a tiny gate to pasture, I saw him again at the stoplight. I reached into the storage between the seats and found my change holder. I produced a handful of quarters to give over to his dirty hand. As I did so, the man behind me in his high-end car, laid on his horn as I slowed to stop, while the light was green.

I threw up my hand like a mother waving at an impatient child behind her, letting the horn blower know just what I thought.

I reached through the open window to give this man all the change I had.

This moment in time, this moment ongoing, will be with me always. The man reached out to take my change and he looked into my eyes again.

Only where brown eyes used to be, the blue of a fresh morning sky greeted me with a look that had seen forever.

And he smiled.

That smile sailed through my soul like lightening and landed somewhere in the nether regions of my heart.

For I knew then what I think I knew all along: I had looked into the eyes of an angel.

I’ve never seen him since.

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2