Monday, July 7, 2014


I blew it.

Messed up. Missed a golden opportunity.

I believe that we were placed on this earth to love, primarily. Not just to love our friends, our family, and those who love us back. We were placed here to love people who have nothing to give us in return. The unlovable, if you will.

Every morning, I pray that my eyes will be open to the needs of those around me, both stranger and friend. I pray that people who need love will be placed in my path. I pray that I will be able to take my mind off of my own needs, pull my head out of my metaphorical behind, and simply love. Whether that love consists of a listening ear or a Clif Bar tossed out my car window in the general direction of a homeless person, I try to answer the call.

More often than not, I miss that call.

A couple days ago, I was in the midst of a busy shift at Stanford's at Portland International Airport. Working at airport bars is an interesting endeavor. It's virtually impossible to predict when business will arrive. A couple international flights delayed simultaneously? You can go from two guests to a hundred in just a few brief minutes.

I was in the middle of such a rush when a young, dirty, scraggly-looking guy walked in to my bar and sat down at one of the few remaining open tables. He ordered a water. I brought over a menu and asked for his ID. Even though he wasn't drinking alcohol, Oregon law mandates that minors can't even sit in certain bars, including mine.

"I don't have an ID," he meekly replied.

There was a sadness, an emptiness, in this young man's eyes that struck me, that seared its way into my brain.

"OK, no worries," I said. "I'll get you a table in the dining room."

He quietly got up from his chair and made his way towards the dining room. I followed. It was then that I noticed his feet.

He wasn't wearing shoes.

Unfortunately, our corporate policy adheres to the old adage "No shirt, no shoes, no service." No pants? No problem. But shoes are a must.

I knew I had to ask him to leave. I was getting busier by the second, with people streaming in from several hurricane-delayed flights to the East Coast.

So I did. No apology, no pause.

He quietly responded, "I've been asking all the stores in the airport if they have any work I can do in exchange for some shoes. No one had any available. I just want to get a salad but I can't afford that either."

This was no ordinary homeless guy. He was no con artist, he was no criminal. He never asked me for anything; never was anything but courteous. Somehow, though, his path had led him to the place where our paths would intersect.

I have over 40 pairs of shoes in my closet. I have an enormous tub of salad mix currently spoiling in my fridge because I can't eat it fast enough.

This is America, though! I work hard for what I have. I give, but only when it doesn't hurt.

"I'll just finish my water and go," the guy said. And he did. I walked away. Paying customers required my attention.

It wasn't until after the rush slowed down that the weight of what I had done settled upon my shoulders.

I could've done so much in so little time. I could've bought him a salad, and boxed it up to go. I could've given him the Clif Bar I'd brought to work. I could've smiled. I could've asked him how he was doing. I could've asked him if there was any way I could bring him a pair of shoes after I got off work.

None of these things would have taken much time, money, or effort on my part. Still, I did none of them. My other customers were waiting, customers whose tips would help me store up treasure here on earth. As for the one customer who could've helped me store up treasure in heaven? I turned my back on him and walked away.

"Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine," said Jesus, "you did it for me."

"I was hungry and you didn't give me food to eat...I was a stranger and you didn't welcome me. I was naked and you didn't give me clothes to wear."

I don't know why this one encounter left me in such a fragile emotional state. I've blown plenty of opportunities to love in the past, and I will undoubtedly miss more chances in the future. But this one guy's eyes, his voice, his pain left an indelible impression on my heart.

Maybe I've been too focused on my own struggles. Yes, this year has been tough for me. Three months of no walking and working. Two months and counting of constant back pain and fitful sleep. Literally sixty appointments with healthcare professionals.

All it took, though, was one man's lonely, hungry, desperate stare to realign my perspective.

I'm going to keep an extra pair of shoes in my car, just in case our paths cross again.