I see him raise a hand out of the open passenger window and think he’s shooing a bee at first. He’s allergic to bees and swears the little buggers can smell that in a person. But no, that’s not what he’s doing. He’s instead waving to the bum who has taken up residence at the guardrail abutting the interstate onramp. That isn’t so surprising. Neither is the fact that the bum waves back, flittering his cardboard sign (HUNGRY, LONELY, TIRED is printed in black Sharpie on the front) and grinning back.
“That’s Eddie,” he tells me.
I keep my eyes to the windshield and nod. “And you know this because—”
“—I stopped to talk to him the other day—”
“—Of course you did,” I say. Because that’s what the man beside me does. He talks to people. Talks to anyone. Anywhere. He’s a property owner by day, running a mini-kingdom of rented homes and apartments. I think he’s secretly a combination of St. Paul and Andy Griffith. To him, there are no strangers, there are simply people he isn’t friends with yet.
“And he’s Eddie?” I ask.
He turns and sticks his head out the window. I look in the rearview. Eddie’s still looking, still shaking his sign. A blue SUV stops beside him. The driver hands him something that might be a dollar bill.
“Did you give him something?”
I’m nodding even before he says, “I bought him lunch,” because that’s what the man beside me does, too. The HUNGRY and LONELY and TIRED are the people he tries to love most because those are the ones he says Jesus loves most. We both love Jesus, my friend and I. Sometimes I think he might love Him a little more.
I smile and ask, “What’d you get in return?”
“What I always get.”
And here is my favorite part, it always is. Some say no act is truly altruistic, that there is a bit of selfishness in everything. That might be true, even with my friend. Because he wants to help and he wants to love just as Jesus said we all should, but he always asks for something in return. He always asks for their story. They all have one—we all have one.
“Did you know Eddie’s been to every state?” is how he begins. I just drive and listen. “Born in Cleveland, but he didn’t stay there long. Parents were awful, that’s usually how it goes. Drunks that beat on him. He ran when he was sixteen. That was twenty years ago.”
“So what’s he do?”
He shrugs and says, “Just drifts. Went west first, all up and down the coast, then made his way east slow. Even went to Thailand once. Worked on a steamer. Only job he’s ever had.”
I don’t say anything to this and wonder for a moment if it’s a trap. We’ve had this discussion many times, my friend and I. I’ll start by saying people like Eddie really could find work. Menial work will still bring money. There’s help out there if Eddie wants it, I’d say, but a lot of people like him live the way they do through choice rather than necessity. My friend agrees in principle. He also doesn’t think that matters much.
“He was married once,” he continues. “She died. Had cancer while they stood in front of a justice of the peace. Eddie knew it and married her anyway. Told me he loved her, and that was reason enough. That was eight years ago. He came east after that. I think he’s trying to run from the memory.”
“I think we all do that,” I say.
“Eddie’s smart. Not with that,” he’s quick to add, “I mean smart like other people are smart. He has dreams.”
That’s the last my friend says of Eddie—“He has dreams.” We end up at the Lowe’s to get what we’ve driven to town for. By the time we head back, Eddie’s gone. I don’t know where he’s gone. My friend probably does, but he doesn’t offer.
I’ve told him many times I wish I could do what he does—stop someone, notice them, help them. Ask them their story. I guess such a thing just isn’t in me. I’m a shy person. Maybe I don’t have enough Jesus.
Still, I think we all need the reminder that all those lost souls we see and read about—those people we sometimes lie to ourselves and think aren’t like us at all—really are. They’ve loved and lost. They’re still searching. We’re all people, and in many ways we’re all hungry and lonely and tired. It’s such an obvious statement, and maybe that’s why it escapes us so often.