Walking briskly in the diamond district of Los Angeles a man wearing shabby clothes hobbled passed me. Our eyes never met as he gazed straight ahead with determination. Although it appeared he was wearing a belt he was struggling to hold up his pants. Either his belt was broken or the waistline of his garment was way too large.
I could have given him my belt. I have plenty of belts. Probably way more than I need. I turned and saw him stumbling further in the distance.
We drop coins into cups and offer the scraps of our food. We are taught to give cheerfully and abundantly without expecting in return, but we hand out a dollar bill from our car windows like the tail of a dead rat. And even though it’s none of our business, we always wonder if the money we give will be used for a bottle of wine or a bag of weed.
In New York there was a guy named Lenny who was an eccentric beggar on 47th St. The word on the street of diamond dealers was that Lenny lost millions in the stock market crash of ‘87. He mumbled nonsense until he passed away a few years ago.
Perhaps this man was like Lenny.
Then my mind flashed about a man who threw the hamburger I gave him in the trash, and the woman who sneered at a taco I offered. But this man seemed different. His eyes shone with blind courage. I could have at least acknowledged him, or said hello. A warm smile and a kind word can be one of the greatest gifts to another. Saying hello would mean, ‘I see you. You are not invisible.’
I looked down and thought we probably wore the same pants size. My pants fit fine. I didn’t even need a belt. I felt a rush to run back, reverse time, and offer my belt. But I didn’t. I just stood frozen in the middle of the busy sidewalk like a fool. It was too late. In the far distance I could see the scruffy man disappear into an alley of garbage dumpsters.
I do not know the moral of this story or the lesson to be learned. But I feel ashamed. This man was not a beggar. He did not hold a cardboard sign or an empty cup to be filled. He asked for nothing.
Then I thought about Lenny again. Although he shouted vulgarities all day long he would sometimes pause to give someone a compliment.
If I reread this many years from now I’m sure I’ll realize I missed the chance to alter the universe. Instead, I gawked at a human in need as I kept checking the time on my gold watch.
And writing this doesn’t make things better. This moment will never repeat itself and I will never see him again.
Oh, well. Gotta move on. Time is money, they say. Must return to the 10th floor to make sure my customer’s two-carat diamond is being set with exquisite perfection.