I was packing up yesterday after a rainy day at the market, a man in business casual clothes, a work badge, and an old but cared for hat approached me. I was laughing with my other vendor friends and having a good time. He asked me how I was, I replied with a smile “Hi. I’m good, how are you?” That’s when I noticed his face. He had this look, he was educated, but desperate. He smiled, he had white teeth but his smile was empty.
He said I know this is kind of an unorthodox question but I was wondering if I could help you pack your stuff into your car. I really don’t care how much you pay me, you could pay me a dollar if you want. As he was talking he must have noticed that I was studying his clothes, the fact that he was wearing a work badge, his nice but scuffed up shoes, his soft-spoken intellectual voice. He explained how he lost his full-time job, and then he lost his car, then he lost place. He explained how he sold everything he owned just to be able to eat and pay the $8 a day he needed to sleep in a shelter. He told me that he finally got another job but he just couldn’t get ahead. He explained that he had $13 for transportation for him to get to work this week, but he still needed $8 to stay in the shelter tonight.
He kept talking, but I said hold on a sec, went into my tent and took $10 out of my cash box and gave it to him. I told he didn’t need to keep explaining anything. I told him that he didn’t need to help me work, he’s worked hard enough just making his way to me. I told him there was a reason we met, I was meant to help him today. I gave him a bag and told him to get whatever he wanted from my stock, and to come back when he ran out. He started crying.
He told me that this has been the hardest year of his life. He told me that I wasn’t the first person that he tried to help, he told me that everyone before me gave him horrible looks, didn’t listen to a word he had to say, and told him to keep it moving. He told me that he knows how God is, but his faith has been shaken.
My heart really broke for him. I looked through his sad eyes, but all I could say was I’m sorry. I was angry, because his life can be anyone of ours. It wasn’t too long ago that we almost lost our house. If it wasn’t for family, I’d be in his same shoes. I was angry that anyone would think they were better than that. When I got home, I was angry that I didn’t give him more.
I was angry at myself for feeling accomplished in the “pay it forward” days at Starbucks. Really? Let me go ahead and pay for someone who can afford an expensive cup of coffee. When Mr. Rayquan needed $3 than that cup of coffee for a bed to sleep in.
As I type this, I have this knot in my throat because I expect more of myself. So if I see Rayquan again next week, I’ll buy him some fruits and vegetables, I’ll give him bottled waters, and my cooler, I’ll pay for his week at the shelter, and give him whatever he needs. Because it’s not up to us to figure out who’s telling the truth, it’s about helping when we can.
That’s what I consider paying it forward.