why was that man struggling in the snow?

Lake Michigan Drive 2A man was lying on the snowy sidewalk, struggling to get up. I saw him as I pulled up to an intersection on Lake Michigan Drive. No one else was stopping, so I thought I’d better.
As I turned around to park on his side of the street, I noticed he was clutching his arm in pain. Could be a heart attack, I thought. I called 911 and asked if they could get someone over there. The dispatcher asked me to find out more information first.
“Sir, do you need some help?” I asked. He had gotten on his feet by this time. His face was pale and unshaven, his eyes glassy and dull, his lank hair hung down. A string of saliva ran from his mouth to his sleeve.
He took one glance at the cell phone in my hand and said no thanks, he was all right. He started to walk away. “Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked. No, I’m okay, he said, although he clearly was not.
I filled in the dispatcher and went back to my car, feeling ill at ease and guilty. Of course there was something I could have done for him. For one, I could have taken him to The Other Way Ministries a few blocks away, where they could have fed him and found out his story.
But that would have meant driving him in my car. I wasn’t afraid he would hurt me, but I didn’t want to let him into my car and my life. Who knows where that might lead? I could end up hung up with him for a couple hours, for an entire day or even, conceivably, for years.
I pulled back onto Lake Michigan Drive and turned the car around, driving in the direction the guy was walking. He was gone. In the space of the maybe 30 seconds I’d taken my eyes off him, he had disappeared. I looked down side streets, in driveways, on porches. Nothing.
It was weird. Like the guy had actually vanished. As if he could have been a ghost, or an angel. Is it possible he was actually put there to see how I would respond? Was he some sort of divine test of my humanity? That seemed highly unlikely. And yet, I had to say, possible.
If so, I felt I had earned a C-plus at best. At least I had stopped, unlike several other motorists. But that was, indeed, the least I could have done.
Once before I had been confronted with such a situation, or test if you will. I was in college and working the night shift at a Big Boy in East Lansing. I was a cook and went out back to put something in the Dumpster. There, slumped against the building in the dark, was a woman, her face streaked with tears.
I asked if I could help. She assured me she was beyond help. I asked why. She told me a tale of misery, lost chances, sorrow. She had been drinking. The words flowed. I kneeled and listened. I sat there for maybe half an hour or more, however long it took for the cops to come. They took her away.
The encounter left me feeling empty and, again, guilty. Yes, at least I had done something for her. I had listened, paid attention. But surely there was more I could have done for this aching soul, one person among billions for some reason put in my way that night.
Was she also put there for a reason, like the man in the snow? Was it a test of my humanity? Did God want something from me? Or was it just random chance, like a leaf that just happened to fall at my feet in the scientific swirl of existence?
No way to know, of course. But these questions that nag me, and the haunting face of the man in the snow – these, I believe, are put there for a reason.

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4 Responses to why was that man struggling in the snow?

  1. Don Clapham says:

    I have had similar encounters with strangers who I thought later might have been angels. These encounters have made me ponder Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

  2. Ron says:

    Charlie, On Sunday I visited a man in a nursing home. He has no family that I know of, he lies voiceless, unable to move anything but his eyes and yet he seemed aware of my presence; the staff assured me he was. He had been a man of faith (is he still?) and loosely connected to our church. I read him a few psalms, talked to him about the basketball game on the pathetic little TV hanging above his bed, promised him I’d be back and left feeling disturbed and without solutions. I think about him during the night. I wonder if he wishes he were dead and if visits like mine help or frustrate. Maybe the next visit will help me figure that out.

    Keep up your good work. Your writing always connects with me.

    Ron

    • soulmailing says:

      Thank you, Ron, that is a moving story. I can only think that your visits help him in some way, as humans on the whole prefer company to loneliness. He may indeed wish he were dead, but of course he would do that whether you came or not. Or maybe he is grateful for the life he still has but cannot speak of. In any case, it is good and brave of you to visit him. It can’t be easy to talk with him when he cannot reciprocate. You may be one of the only people who careas enough to just be with him. Blessings to you.

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