I have a supermarket with an underground parking reserved for its clientele nearby. I often park there to shop elsewhere and only buy whatever grocery I need at that point to get the exit ticket. Today, as I didn’t need anything, I had decided I would buy some chocolate. On my way to another store, I caught a glimpse of a man sitting on the wall facing the entrance of the supermarket. He smiled, I smiled back. He was holding a cup but I did not know if he was begging for money; he did not ask for anything. I moved on thinking that it was judgemental of me to assume that much because he was dressed a bit too warmly for the weather and holding a cup. I went on with my business. On my way back, our eyes met again and, as I continued walking, I peeked into what, I now could tell, used to be a coffee cup: there were coins, mainly copper ones.
I wondered if I had change but decided not to look for any. Instead, I went to leave my bags in the trunk of my car then back up to the store, I passed the sliding doors and walked straight towards him.
I have seen and read enough testimonies to know that there is one thing people having to beg for money have in common: they feel invisible. People turn away, avoiding their gaze, out of shame for not giving money, or out of disgust. So many platforms have reminded me of their dehumanization that I have made a point of not looking away for the last decade. I don’t always have spare change, I sometimes am in a hurry, but I always make eye contact – I smile if it seems appropriate. I don’t know if it makes any difference but that is my own personal way of maybe giving them some humanity back. Today, I was in no hurry so I stepped up to him. To me, he was out of place. I suddenly realised I had never seen homeless people in my hometown. Not that I knew for a fact this man was. The only thing I knew was he looked in need and was holding a cup full of coins. As I approached, he reciprocated my smile. I greeted him in French and asked if he was hungry. He was. Did he want anything? Bread maybe? Yes, bread. Anything else? No, just bread. Was he sure? Maybe some lunch meat? He nodded shily and agreed with a smile. Some cheese? Yes, please, cheese.
– OK. I’ll get you that.
– Thank you.
I passed the chocolate section and got what I had suggested. As the sliding doors opened and he spotted me, his face lit up. I am not using the expression lightly: it was illuminated. I handed him the food while he thanked me in Dutch. He held my hands before taking the food and said in English:
– Thank you very much. Thank you.
– You are welcome.
Still holding my hands and my gaze, he added: “God bless you.”
I usually consider that an idiomatic expression, certainly because I am agnostic, but today it was different. I did feel blessed. Not in the sense that I am counting my blessings for my wonderful daughter, family, friends and circumstances – which I do but that is besides the point. It was more mystical than the rationalisation of first world problems: I could feel his smile seeping through his hands into mine and flowing through my veins.
“He is somebody’s son”, the words whispered by my own voice in my head as I was walking away chocked me up a little. Still, I did not feel sadness. Instead, I fell his light radiating through me.
I am not looking for praise here, I know people more worthy of it, people who act every day not on a punctual basis. I did feel compelled to share this though: magic happens when you don’t look away. Give a smile and you will receive light. That’s the beaming truth.