I struggle with typing this story to you. I want not for this to be about me. It is anything but. Know I am aware that by sharing it I am shining a light on my own ego. I fought with myself internally before deciding the end lesson must be told despite the fact some of you may misread this and think I am bragging or asking for praise. Hear me. No praise. Hear me. I usually wouldn’t share what happened today. I do it often but today was different.
Though I am not rich I am richly blessed. That sounds so cliché. Those of you who know about being richly blessed know the responsibility that comes with it. The money I do have I got from living within or below my means. I married a man who shares my heart for a demographic among us who are invisible to most – the homeless.
The homeless. They have names you know. Or maybe you don’t know. Maybe you’ve never asked. Together that husband of mine and I have had plenty of conversations about what the world perceives in these down-on-their-luck, deciders of bad choice, wandering nomads. They hold signs at intersections and beg in front of stores and most of you turn away judging them as lazy, drug addicts who aren’t interested in helping themselves. You take it upon yourselves to assume how they will spend the money that they collect which is always a mystery to me since you’re never or rarely the one giving. They stink, they smoke, they beg. What more is there to know?
Last evening I slept in a suite at a high class hotel in California. I had booked just a regular, run-of-the-mill room at this booshy, booshy hotel. I was feeling proud and delighted that I was getting to stay at the swankiest of places at such a low price and all because I had done my due diligence in researching the best price. I had no idea what was about to happen.
We checked in about 8 p.m. I was dressed nicely for me but only because I had a very honorable affair I had attended earlier that afternoon. My borrowed daughter, Molly Ingstad, had just graduated from film school in Los Angeles. I took a little extra time to put myself together so I didn’t look like that evil, ugly step-mom from a horror movie.
In the lobby of the upscale hotel I was behind a man in line checking in when the huge, spotless glass doors opened. In hobbled a middle-aged man on crutches with his leg in a cast. I did what I hope anyone would do and said, “Sir, please go in front of me so you can get off your feet.” He thanked me but said he was fine. I implored him one more time to please go in front of me as I was not in a hurry at all. I explained I have been on crutches plenty of times and I knew how they must be hurting his armpits. He wouldn’t hear of it. As the man in front of me finished his check-in, the hobbling man on crutches and I had a great, friendly conversation. The front desk opened up and it was now my turn to check in. The very properly postured man at the front desk asked for my name. I gave it to him but before he even typed it into the computer he said, “I’m upgrading you to the upper-floor suite.” A bewildered blonde tends to do that head tilt thing with mischievous eye dart and so I did too. At first I thought it was a scam to charge me more. Before I even had a chance to question him and as he finally typed in my name he said, “I’m upgrading you to the upper-floor suite because what you offered that man on crutches was very kind. I don’t see that. I don’t see that ever!”
I was so touched that I began praising his kindness and it became a check-in of dueling compliments and thank-you’s.
Husband and I opened the door to our suite and I kid you not. I felt like the elite. For a moment I forgot why I was thrifty. For a moment I enjoyed feeling rich. As soon as I felt that I felt that thing that happens to overly-sensitive blondes. Gratitude poured from me and I just kept babbling away to that husband of mine how blessed we are. “What are the chances that the front desk man would be so kind to us,” I asked him?
We spent the night living a very privileged existence and we knew it.
We woke up. Remember those words. We woke up and found ourselves at the Burger King up the way having breakfast with a homeless man and a homeless woman. I saw him sitting around the corner of the building. I walked up and handed him enough money for breakfast though I didn’t care what he spent it on. I believe in giving without strings. I believe the money I possess has already been blessed if it found itself to my hand-the sinner that I am. Husband and I walked in to order a thrifty breakfast with bacon in it. I dictated my order to Husband as I excused myself to the restroom. I opened the restroom door to find a very smelly woman attempting to wash her hair in the sink using the liquid soap dispenser on the wall.
“Good Morning,” I greeted her as I took mental note of her condition. “Would you like some shampoo?”
She didn’t answer at first taken aback, I think, that anyone talked to her. I hurriedly walked out to the parking lot. I was on a mission.
In the SUV we have been blessed with was my luggage bag filled with the fancy hotel shampoos, conditioners, soaps, Kleenexes, sewing kit, lotion, shoe shining cloth, lavender pillow spray and slippers we had gotten by being privileged to spend the night in the upper-floor hotel suite the night before. The shampoos and conditioners are by a famous hair designer. They smell as good as they feel. I was excited to just have the samples but now I was more excited to give them away. I gathered everything including my new pink sunglasses I purchased in Hollywood. I loved those new glasses so but suddenly they meant nothing to me. I wanted her to have them. I wanted her to feel like I did staying in that hotel. I wanted her hair to smell like awapuhi and coconut because smell can change a mood and perhaps, in this case, a life.
I presented it all to her in the hollowness of the Burger King restroom and walked away to find that husband of mine having a conversation with the homeless man I gave the money to outside. The woman left the bathroom to go sit outside on the side of the building where no one would see her. The man went to the men’s restroom to freshen up. When he came out we invited them to eat with us. The man walked out to get her. He didn’t ask us for more money. He used the money I had already given him to pay for their food. They are meth addicts and live in a tent in the southern California heat. They were high as they ate. They had weathered faces and were probably younger than me but looked years older. At least to the world they did. To me they looked like lost souls that needed to matter. I felt so self-indulgent eating my food. I eat whenever I want and sleep in nice, clean places. I dress in thrifty clothes but am perceived by the judgmental world as someone worthy of being looked at and complimented. We realize they have choices. We realize they are addicts. We also know they are souls created despite being sick. We know they are worthy of the kind of love that has no barriers, no conditions and certainly no rules. Agape love. Look it up. Memorize it. They admit freely they are addicts. They didn’t need us preaching to them. We learned they were originally from Michigan. We learned they tried meth just one time and were hooked. We learned that life is beyond tough for them day by day.
We exchanged hugs as they walked back to the side of the building where no one would see them. They might as well have sat smack dab out front. Nobody sees invisible people. She had my new pink sunglasses I bought in Hollywood on her head as she sat in the dirt against the wall of the building. He sat next to her, high as a kite but protectively.
We woke up. We woke up all right. We were once again scared aware that the human condition among us is dire as we’ve spent billions to send cameras to Mars.
I wish I had my new pink sunglasses back so I could blacken out what doesn’t make sense. Please pray for our new friends to find their way. I told them many of you would. Thank you from them.
Ingstad lives on the prairie near Valley City and writes this column for the Times-Record.