We sat in the parking lot of a gas station on the phone with National Car Rental. My husband and I were hoping to return our rental car to San Francisco airport instead of Los Angeles where we had picked it up at the start of our 3 day get-away to Yosemite National Park. Jonathan, spoke with the customer representative and had a disappointed look on his face. “It’s going to cost us more money than we want to spend to drop it off in San Fran.” We had left a few hours earlier in hopes that this plan would work out, but since we did not have reception to make phone calls the whole time were on vacation, we had waited until we were down out of the mountains to make the call–and ultimately much closer to San Fran than Los Angeles.
“We should probably drive to LA.” “Yes,” I replied, agreeing. We would get home much later than expected, but it was worth saving hundreds of dollars.
We drove for another hour or so and planned out a stop at our favorite California fast food place, In and Out Burger. There were two in the town of Fresno, and we decided to push to the south end of town before stopping.
We pulled in, grabbed our phones and IPad to work on new flight reservations going out of LA (we fly standby so this is normal faire for us). As we approached the entrance, a man in his 40’s (maybe 50’s? We couldn’t tell), shyly approached us. He was clearly homeless and haltingly asked us for help. Holding out two one dollar bills, he offered this, all he had, and a veterans flashlight if we would be able to buy him the basic meal at In and Out. He struggled to ask this, seemingly embarrassed. Before he could finish his request we immediately said, “Yes, of course, come on in with us.”
In the bustling restaurant, we stood in line. My husband ordered the man a meal, along with ours, and we asked if he would want to sit with us while we ate. Jon held out his hand, “I’m Jonathan.” “I’m David,” David replied. “And I’m Amy.” We shook hands, and I could feel his rough, weary worn skin. He stood back from us, uncomfortable. “This is so embarrassing for me,” he quietly said, not making eye contact. “I will visit with you until the food is ready, but if it’s ok, I will go outside and eat by myself to spare you the sight of me wolfing down my meal.” (Ugh, that’s quite the statement–how hungry he must have been!) I noticed then how skinny he was. He wore a tan army-looking jacket and old pants, and his fingertips were dark with dirt. We filled our drinks and sat down.
David told us that he was a war veteran, had been in the army for 16 years and 6 tours of duty. He had been medically discharged and had fallen on hard times. Somehow, he had slipped through the cracks, and now injured and homeless he was in a difficult situation. I asked what he did all day. He said he was trying to meet with an attorney to help him get some more help from the military, but it was so difficult to get to his appointments because he didn’t have a car. He had been at the In and Out location hoping to use some of his skills to help a lady start her car, maybe make a few dollars. But she never showed up. “It’s ok, though, because I got to meet the two of you,” David said with a smile. He was well spoken, and then proceeded to share,” I don’t know what faith background you come from, but I am a believer in Jesus and I don’t have much at all, but I am so thankful for what he has given me. I have my health and I am alive, and I know I will get through this. I carry in my pocket the verse:
“I can do all things who strengthen me” and I believe in my heart it is true and I will be ok”.
It was difficult for me to believe that this man, who seemingly had nothing–no home, no car, no food, no friends, would have such a faith and a hope.
Yet, here he was in the flesh, at a table in In and Out Burger, sharing his story with us.
Our food arrived, and Jonathan prayed for the food, and for David, that he would find more help in the next few weeks, and that God would watch over him. I rested my hand on his back as we prayed, sure many eyes in the busy restaurant were on us, yet not caring one bit.
It was a surreal moment for me, one of those that puts absolutely everything in perspective in an instant. We had so much, and this man had nothing. All social boundaries would say we shouldn’t be sitting here with him. While Jonathan and I slept warm and safe the night before in a 4 (maybe 5?) star lodge in the mountains of Yosemite, and woke up to a hot breakfast that we paid for without pause, David slept outside, probably under some old cardboard boxes, on the streets of Fresno. Who knows when he had eaten last, and what. We had IPads and IPhones out, planning our trip to Los Angeles to board a plane home to our family, David–well, he wasn’t sure what the next hour would bring, survival was the only goal. Yet here we were, three humans brought together with elbows rested on an In And Out Burger table.
David took his Double Double, fries and a drink and nodded his head speaking thank you (always SO much gratitude with the homeless–a whole other blog post), and walked outside to eat alone. This man had no expectation, was truly ashamed to be desperate enough for help, had served our country for sixteen years (acquiring a bullet to the stomach and hand during his service), and was a good communicator. It didn’t seem fair or right.
Jonathan and I sat there, deep in thought for a few minutes while we chewed. What else can we do for him? Surely a meal is not enough. While my dear navigator and travel plan organizer husband worked out our rental car details and flight status, I ate, processing our time with this dear man. I went back to the counter to order shakes for David and myself, and then as he walked back in to refill his soda offered one to him. “Oh, no thank you,” he said, “you already have done so much.” “Well, I got this just for you if you want it,” I replied. “In that case, I would be grateful,” David replied as he reached out his hand for the cup.
He left then again, and I watched him out the window as he crossed the parking lot. I didn’t want to lose sight of him–we wanted to give him more, but it was all in our car, so I wanted to find him again as soon as we were finished with our travel logistic planning.
Finally, we headed to the parking lot. David was no where in sight, but I knew where I had seen him heading. We dove around for about five minutes hoping to see him. We didn’t know what we were going to offer him, we only knew that we wanted to see him again, see what he needed–a ride somewhere? More food for later? Some cash for a hotel for the night? Sadly, we couldn’t find him–we even drove by some places where we thought he might be resting– under some bushes, corners of some buildings, but nothing. We headed out towards the Interstate.
Then we came back. Jonathan and I could spare a few more minutes to try and find David. We drove in wider circles but it was like he had just disappeared into thin air.
Disappointed and quiet, we left Fresno. Our encounter with this man, and how we could possibly find him again once we got home were the topics of our conversation–off and on for the next three hours in the car.
I still think about this unexpected meeting. All the pieces that fit for us to walk into this restaurant at the right time–changing airports, choosing to stop at the second, not first In And Out, and a myriad of other unseen circumstances. I am so thankful that the timing was right. I hope David is doing better, or at least the same, not worse. I hope that he has met some other people who could possibly give him a ride to a meeting or a doctor’s appointment. Maybe the attorney he mentioned is helping him.
He left his mark on me. And all the daily annoyances and stresses of my life seem much less important than they did before. A dollar bill seems to have more value now. I am more grateful, and incredibly humbled. My faith, well, it is solid as long as I am comfortable, fed, and have loving people all around me–it hasn’t been tested anywhere close to David’s. If he can have it in his circumstances, then I can certainly have it in mine.
I pray that God will watch over David, and if you think of it, please pray for him too.