I'm honestly not sure why he caught my attention.
Our street is busy and people are always walking by. In fact, he was half-way past my house when I heard myself yell out, "May I offer you a soda?"
The young man's body visibly relaxed under his heavy backpack. A backpack laden with, well, everything. He smiled and said that would be great.
Not all who wander are lost
I ran inside cursing myself for not 1) having bottled water and 2) not keeping soda in the fridge. I handed him three drinks and an icy pop while apologizing for the sodas not being cold. He smiled and said they were colder than this warm air and that was cold enough for him.
His bright blue eyes were piercing under his mop of unruly, sandy hair. There didn't seem to be a wrinkle on his face, but there should have been smile lines for as often as he grinned. Tattooed on his finger was the word, "happy."
Turns out, this young man was travelling from Vermont to North Carolina. Soon, he'd be celebrating his 29th birthday and was meeting up with friends in Winston-Salem. He'd already walked to New York then taken a bus to Danville, VA (where I am). Now his feet would be carrying him the rest of the way.
He expressed his concerns about turning 30 (though that was another year away) and how he felt that after that milestone year, everything started to go down-hill. He had a lot of life to live and wondered if he was having the "loss of my twenties doldrums." We talked of his walking up the west coast and how different San Francisco weather is from Las Vegas weather, and how Virginia weather is different from Vermont weather.
Surprising myself again, I heard my own voice asking if he needed food. He seemed taken aback that I'd asked that. Even saying, "Do I NEED food?" Not wanted to offend him, I quickly asked if he would LIKE some food. He smiled and replied that he was a fat kid on the inside and ALWAYS liked food.
Me too, my friend. Me too.
I ran inside for the second time cursing myself (again) because I really had nothing to offer this young man. My cupboards and fridge are pretty bare, but what if this was my son, and he happened past a home of someone claiming to be a Christian?
He couldn't carry much more as his burden was already heavy, so canned goods were out. Besides, did he even have a can opener? (I have no idea what I'm doing. Would he like a bag of hot dog buns? What? That's so dumb!) I grabbed the last of the fruit snacks (which my husband had refused this morning), heated up a bunch of frozen nuggets, grabbed some oranges and dried cranberries, and headed back outside. I was preparing to apologize for the meager fare, when his eyes widened and he whispered, "Wow."
We chatted away like old friends. I'm fairly outgoing, but around strangers I'm more reserved and afraid I'll say something stupid or that there will be that uncomfortable lull in the conversation. It wasn't like that with him though, and I was grateful.
Though he looked young, he had a ruggedness and a confidence about him that reminded me of a mountain man. I felt I was witnessing the pioneering spirit that was so prevalent long ago, but has lost its luster. He wanted to get to North Carolina and no lack of money or transportation was going to stop him.
He said he'd been off the road for three years and, as he pointed to his head, he felt that he's lost it a bit. I knew intuitively what he was referring to. It's wasn't his mind that he'd lost, but the instinct of the open road. The pull of the destination. Some folks are just born to wander and I believe he is one of them. But he was back to it. It was good, he is happy.
He said how much he appreciated everything I'd done for him. In 1,700 miles only one other person had spoken to him. Now, it was my turn to say, "Wow."
I wish I could say this is just the sort of person I am. That I always keep extra food and drink at the ready for the needy passerby. That hospitality is in my blood. Yeah, it's not. In fact I probably would have let him walk past had I not read a blog post this morning on Christian hospitality. It talked about how hospitality nowadays is reserved for those we know. Those who can give something back to us. Those who can offer us THEIR hospitality. That is not what hospitality is supposed to be.
Before leaving, I asked this young man if I could pray with him, surprising myself for the third time this morning. I asked the Good Lord to please protect him, give him the physical strength to make it to his destination, and that He would show Himself along the journey. I told him praying like that is not something I normally do, but something (someone) was calling me to it. He replied, "It felt good. Thanks; it's just nice to know someone cares."
I told him he was welcome back anytime he found himself walking by. I held out my hand and introduced myself.
"Emily," he said with a smile. "I can remember that; it's my sister's name. I'm Bruce."
Bruce never asked for a single thing (except directions to 29 south), and that's so often the case with those who truly need our hospitality. They're not going to ask because they aren't what we consider "in need."We must ask God to open our eyes to those people. It's not always that obvious. There will always be people who need food and shelter and clothing, yes. But the majority of people need a smile or a handshake, or, like Bruce said, just to know someone cares. Charity is different from hospitality, though they are intertwined. He was not in need of charity, he had everything he "needed." All he was lacking was some hospitality.
If you happen to see Bruce walking through your neck of the woods, stop him and give him a drink. Engage him in conversation. I'm sure he'll be happy to tell you about his travels. He won't ask you for a thing (except for maybe directions). Pray with him, let him know you care. Those blue eyes and wry smile will stick with you. He's someone's son, brother, friend. Treat him like you'd want your son, brother, friend, to be treated.
Maybe someday you'll be walking through the woods of Vermont and see a lone house. You might just be in the need for a drink. Perhaps a man with unruly sandy hair will open the door and return the hospitality he was offered once upon a time.