As I looked at the one-handed man in the seat next to me, I wondered why I’d never stopped before. I’d seen him a half dozen times or more but just didn’t stop. He was always walking on West Chester’s narrow two lane Main Street. Just beyond the old high school that long ago lost its occupants to the newer mega-campus two miles west. Near the new post office, built next door to the old one-room red brick one that now sits empty and quiet, grass growing through the cracks in the cement parking lot.
Several times he carried what were obviously tins of cat food in a Walmart bag. The small ones. Guess he has cats, I thought.
He dressed in blue jeans and a work shirt, with no name on the front, and work boots. The attire of a man who’d worked for a living. An ACE bandage coiled around the stub of his left arm where a hand once clung.
I’d passed him on previous occasions, but this time was different. I had the time and refused to make excuses.
I’ll be late…
He won’t accept…
I often wonder about life’s timing.
Maybe I just needed to get my mind off myself. Life was overwhelming me. I passed him then felt compelled to make a u-turn. I pulled off the road in front of him and threw open the passenger door.
“Can I offer you a ride, sir!,” I said, with my best please-believe-me-I’m-not-a serial-killer voice.
It must have worked. His face broke into a grin as he replied, “Well certainly! Thank you!”
As he settled into the front seat, I felt obligated to break the ice and justify why I’d stopped.
“My name’s Robert. I’ve see you walking this way several times and just thought I’d offer you a lift.”
“My name’s Ernest,” he replied, gently clasping the end of his stub with his right hand.
“You headed to Walmart?” I asked, assuming he was going to stock up on cat food.
“Nope,” he replied, “Wendy’s.”
“Oh, ok,” I replied, not expecting that answer.
“Would you like to go through the drive thru? I’ll be happy to give you a lift back home,” I said, pressing to extend my act of courtesy.
“Thank you. But no,” he replied. “I come here every morning for breakfast. Then I head over to the Waffle House to meet with some friends.”
“I used to drive myself,” he continued, “but couple years ago I started gettin’ the glaucoma in my eyes. Got too dangerous cause I couldn’t see where I was goin’.”
Something struck me at that moment. It was an odd sense of jealousy and envy of the one-handed man. His life seemed very simple and predictable. And at that moment my life was far from simple and predictable. I was living in a swirling pool of uncertainty. Looking into his world was like peering up out of a churning well into a calm blue sky, in spite of his glaucoma and one-handedness.
We arrived at Wendy’s and I imagined the sausage biscuit and steamy coffee awaiting him inside.
As he let himself out of the truck, he thanked me repeatedly for the lift and commented what a kind gesture it was on my part. I think I said something like don’t mention it.
I didn’t tell him the truth of the matter. Seeing into his world for a minute allowed me to turn down the noise in my life and join him in a more simple place. Even if it was only briefly. I had a strange sense that maybe this friendly, little, one-handed man was some type of angel. Maybe I’d given a lift to an aging angel. I know that’s a bit cliche but I couldn’t deny the feeling.
I’ve only seen him once since then. I was in a hurry and he was almost at Wendy’s. So I drove on by. I would’ve honked but I knew he couldn’t see me.
I doubt his life is as simple as I assume. Every life has its challenges. And my life isn’t that complicated. It just seems that way at times.
But what I know for certain is, I’m glad I stopped. I’m glad I got to know this elderly, one-handed man. The smile on his face, the glint in his eyes shed a little sunshine into a dark moment in my life.
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed today, maybe you need to get your mind off yourself and find a “one-handed man” you can help, even if only for a moment. You’ll likely receive more than whatever amount you give.