On yesterday's long drive home, I pulled off the freeway to use the facilities at one of the many truck stops lining I-80's stretch across Wyoming's south border. As I reached the bottom of the exit ramp, I saw a young man, probably in his mid-20s, and his dog. The man held a sign: "Stranded. Broke. Hungry. Please help."
Even as I passed him, I noticed both he and the dog were terribly thin. Some men are like that naturally, and maybe he was one of those, but I couldn't stop thinking about him. So I grabbed a couple of hot dogs, a bottle of water, two bananas, a Reeses, and a packet of dog food. As I checked out, using the last of the cash budgeted for my trip, the change came exactly to five dollars. Disregarding my mother's voice from long ago ("Don't give money to pan-handlers. They'll just use it to buy drugs or alcohol."), I slid the bill into the hot dog box, helped the attendant bag everything, and went to my car.
A minute later the bag was delivered and I was on my way with his whispered, "God bless," ringing in my ears.
And then I cried.
I cried because I wanted to put him in my car and take him somewhere safe.
I cried because I wished the food had been more nutritious, but I opted for calories over healthy, not knowing when that young man might eat again.
I cried because I knew other people would help, because that's what people do.
I cried because we have very little money right now, but he has less.
I cried because the cash I gave might buy a tiny bit of drugs or a drink of alcohol, but maybe it would buy some breakfast in the morning--either way, it belonged to him.
Mostly I cried because I was tired, I'd been through a difficult weekend filled with many people, I hadn't had time to do the lesson planning I'd hoped, and depression had nothing to do with my tears--nope.
Darrin said I couldn't ask the young man if we could give him a ride. About 20 miles down the freeway, a flashing sign announced an escaped prisoner and a warning not to pick up hitchhikers. I don't believe the hungry young man was that prisoner--they usually don't have dogs, right? But it reminded me that I didn't know him and probably it was a good idea to let him manage as he saw fit.
Still, I'd like to stop crying all the time. It makes my eyes itch. And I can't stop wondering about that man and his dog. I hope they eat today.