Keith Eubanks II

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Some Change

In Dreams, Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I was driving home from work a couple of weeks ago with the top down on the convertible. It was a cool Spring day in the desert and the wild flowers were blooming, but I hardly noticed. My mind was in another place, dwelling on other problems.

Driving into town I caught a compelling whiff of In-N-Out hamburgers and pulled in for a late afternoon lunch. The drive-thru line was long, but the parking lot was empty, so I parked the car and walked toward the entrance getting hungrier by the second. I had a book with me and I imagined a few quiet minutes alone, reading.  But before I could reach the door, a man sitting on one of the patio tables nearby asked me for a couple dollars so he could buy a hamburger.

I looked him over, skeptically. He was over-weight, his clothes were in relatively good condition and his tennis shoes were in better shape than my own. He had a small backpack sitting on the table next to him, the kind students carry around campus.

I was irritated that he had asked me. I just wanted a quick bite to eat and I began to imagine all of the other people he had harassed on their way into the restaurant. “It’s probably why the parking lot is empty,” I thought.

I told him I didn’t have any cash and walked briskly through the doors. I wasn’t in a very good mood. It seems like every time my wife and I get some money, some small catastrophe occurs that takes all of it – and more. Who was he, sitting there in his nice tennis shoes, to ask me for money?

My conscience -unasked and unwanted- was prickling, though. The better part of myself was telling me to help him. In retaliation, I told the cashier that he was bothering people for money.

By the time I left he was gone.

And then I was even angrier – and not just angry at him. I was angry at myself. The little voice in my head said that what I had done was mean. “You aren’t the person you think you are,” it said, “at least not today, anyway.”

I thought of an impossible number of excuses for not giving  him the money. “He’s probably a drug addict or an alcoholic,” I thought, or “He does this for a living. Do you know how much money a professional panhandler makesHe should get a job, like the rest of us.”

But the deeper, quieter voice was speaking the Truth: “He asked you for a hamburger.”  And it isn’t like In-N-Out burgers are expensive.

I thought about that guy for days, and I didn’t tell anyone what I had done.  I remembered, many years back, when I lived in California.  The son of the irrigator who worked for on father’s small ranch was found dead near one of the canals in Tranquillity.  I think the accident had something to do with alcohol. My dad doesn’t drink, but it was he that paid for the body to be shipped back to Mexico and gave the father what he needed to get back home.  He is always doing that kind of thing. He doesn’t judge people.

And then I went to church.

During the sermon, the minister gave an analogy of the church and its mission. Up on the screen, above the stage, were two images. One was of a battleship -a destroyer- firing all of its guns at once in a blaze of golden fire. The other was an an aircraft carrier with helicopters lifting off from its decks. He said that the church is too often seen as a destroyer. Everyone is on board, safe, firing their guns at some perceived evil – and he admitted that there was a time and place for that – but this pastor argued that the church needs to be more like the aircraft carrier. Planes and helicopters leave the decks and take the mission out into the world. They do the hard stuff, the heavy lifting.

They buy hamburgers for the hungry, if that is what the job requires.

I thought about the reasons –the excuses– for not helping that guy out. It’s true that there is no real way to know what he would do with the money, but that isn’t really the point. The willingness to give is far more important, for it speaks to who we really are. I imagined myself in prayer, asking God for all of the things we bring to Him in the last critical moments as some disaster strikes, or reeling from the aftermath.

Help. Healing. Money. Forgiveness.

What if He responded, I thought, as I had to the man seeking a meal? He might say,“Why are you asking me? Why now? If you had just done what I told you to do in the first place, you wouldn’t be in this situation. You’ve done little enough with what I have already given you, and I’m busy.  It isn’t easy being God you know.”

And sometimes it isn’t easy, or convenient, to do the right thing. To leave the deck. But there really is no greater manifestation of God than when we act as we have been instructed to act towards each other. It is, in fact, a divine imperative.

I’m thinking of loaves and fishes. Of good Samaritans and talents multiplied.

I left this morning in a hurry, thinking of all the things I wanted to accomplish in this day. I retrieved my wallet from the pants laying on the bedroom floor along with a large handfull of loose change. I dropped my daughter off at the school -kisses and wishes- and drove to the Starbuck’s at the San Marcos Hotel – a place my parents like to stay when they visit us here in Arizona. It has tables around a beautiful garden and as I stood in line, waiting for my coffee, I thought about getting the much neglected book from the car and maybe taking a few quiet moments to read.

As I started to cross the street I heard a voice asking me if I could spare some change. It was quiet and unassuming. Maybe only the right ears were meant to hear it. I turned and said, “Excuse me?”

The man, sitting near the curb, asked again. “Can you spare seventy-five cents?”

I thought of the change I hastily grabbed earlier that morning.  I only brought it with me because, the truth is, I never carry cash and I like to have a little money in my pockets. It makes me feel good.

I looked at the man, and it is difficult to explain, but I acted on impulse. I said, “Yes, I can. Let me see what I have,”  knowing it was more than the seventy-five cents he asked for.

And I gave him everything I had in my pocket.

He thanked me with a smile and I walked back to the car deciding I’d skip the reading this morning and just go to work. I felt good, so good I noticed it. And then I remembered the man at In-N-Out Burger.

I felt like I had corrected a wrong. I felt forgiven. I don’t know if it came from God, but I felt like I had forgiven myself.

I remembered a time when I had less, and I gave more. That seems to be the way of it. And I remembered a verse from the Bible that says, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

I don’t know if that man was an angel. It doesn’t really matter. But I felt like one.

And all it cost me was some change.

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