The man seated on the stoop had been there each morning for several days. He was thin, disheveled and frail, and he was probably homeless. As I walked into my office building, I said good morning and he often looked up and greeted me, too. I worked for a large social service agency, and it was not uncommon for clients to hang around outside the front doors. However, when I asked if anyone knew this gentleman, no one did. Folks had gone out to ask if he needed anything and he always said, “no.”
Then one day, as I approached the door, he stood up.
“Can you do something for me?” he asked.
“Of course.” I said.
He asked for a cup of coffee, a cup of strong coffee with milk and sugar.
“I can do that.” I said. And we walked into the restaurant near my office. His hands were shaking but his eyes were clear and gentle.
“Is there anything else I can get you?” I asked.
“Toast,” he said, “with lots of butter.”
I ordered the coffee and the toast and placed them in his hands. He took my hands in his and looked into my eyes.
“Thank you,” he said.
When I told my colleagues about this exchange, many chided me for not buying him something more substantial, like eggs and ham and potatoes. They wondered why I didn’t encourage him to come into the agency to get help. But he had sat there for weeks, he knew what the agency was, how to walk through the front door. Many people had approached him.
I think I did the right thing. I saw this gentle man as whole. He knew what he wanted, strong coffee and toast with lots of butter. I gave him the gift of being seen and heard, he gave me the gift of true connection.
May you have both in this New Year.