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Compassion 101

by Francie Snell  
12/22/2018 / Short Stories

A school bell didn’t ring when class began. There were no scribbles on a chalkboard stating the topic of the day. It would be unlike any course I had ever taken, in a run-down part of town, in a restaurant called McDonald's…

A man shuffled into the room wearing a tattered army jacket hanging loosely over his slouched shoulders. As he slowly made his way past our table, he glanced at us, then jerked with a look of surprise, like a gnarled old miner who had just discovered a gold nugget. His eyes lit up as he scurried to a table near us, in a room filled with empty tables and chairs.

He gazed out the window as the afternoon sun lit up his scraggly mass of gray hair like a halo. He peeked at us then out the window as if trying to hide his interest in the chatter of a mom and her three little boys.

“Maam, more ketchup please,” my youngest one said through the food in his mouth.

As the four of us consumed our burgers and fries, the man’s hollow blue eyes showed a hunger I thought I understood. He sat as if patiently waiting, and an idea came to me, a quick and simple act of kindness. And what a good Christian example it would be for my kids.

“Boys, stay here. I’ll be right back. I’m going to buy that man some lunch.”

I gave the counter person special instructions. I decided to have them serve the man. It was easy that way. I could watch from a distance and not have to make personal contact with him. Yet after waiting a while, I checked on the order and was frustrated to learn she had placed it in a “to go” bag and set it off to the side.

“Ma’am,” she said, with a huff, “You’ll have to give it to him yourself,” and handed me the bag.

“What? Why can’t you give it to him?”

She shook her head looked away.

What was wrong with these people, I wondered. My plan wasn’t turning out as I had hoped. Even so, with the bag in hand, I started for the table where the man sat. As I walked up behind him, anticipating his grateful response, a melodious crescendo played sweetly in my imagination.

Then reality hit. With cunning stealth, I would deposit the package in front of him and quickly escape with the same cowardice characteristic of a drive-by shooting.

I placed the bag in front of him, and with lightning speed, he latched onto my arm with both hands. “God bless you! God bless you!”

I tried to escape, but he continued to hold on with a vice-like grip. We engaged in a tug-of-war match with my arm that seemed to play in slow motion. He pulled me closer to him, and stared me in the eye, desperation in his face.

With one final yank, I pulled away, as he let go at the same time.
I stumbled backward almost falling, then caught myself. I stood up, breathless and embarrassed. “God bless you, I said, like getting in the last word in an argument.”

I hurried back to my table where my boys sat, wonder in their eyes.

“Boys, clean up. We gotta go!”

I avoided eye contact with the man as we left the restaurant.

As we drove out of the parking lot, I tried to make sense of what had just happened when a little voice rose up from the backseat.

"Maam, wah dat man mad-a-you?"

"Oh no, he wasn't mad, he was just happy that I gave him some food."
It was a quick and easy answer designed for a five-year-old, but not entirely accurate.

"Ooooh" he replied, in a questioning tone.

Further down the road, it dawned on me the homeless stranger had a different hunger than I had first assumed. The desperation he showed when latching on to my arm wasn’t about food; his real desire was for people. It went deeper than I understood. Never had I experienced such loneliness the man apparently had, or his sense of appreciation for sitting near my family who I blindly took for granted.

God used that man to teach me a lesson that day, and it is one I will never forget.It was unlike any class I had ever attended, in a run-down part of town, in a restaurant called McDonald's.

Francie lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California with her husband and best friend. She loves the gift of life the Lord has given her and has a passion to write about it... for His glory.

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