I stood in line behind him at the dollar store. It was Good Friday and I was waiting to buy some Easter grass when I noticed the man’s oily brown hair underneath a black cap. I saw the dirt-stained backpack, twisted at the straps. I saw the unwashed jeans slung low on his waist. In his left arm, he cradled a package of toilet paper and some razors. He turned around and smiled at me.
“It might be a little while,” he said, holding out his right hand to show me the fist full of nickels and pennies he planned to hand over to the cashier.
“Well, we can just put these all together,” I told him, pushing my items forward on the counter.
He looked at me, surprised.
“You don’t have to do that.”
His dark blue eyes were wet now.
“Oh, I don’t mind.”
My heart started beating faster – the same way it does every time I see someone in need. I wanted to do more. I wanted to step out of line and fill a basket of canned goods from the aisle behind me. But I didn’t. Instead, I swiped my debit card for $5.41 while he stood aside and waited politely.
A minute later, I watched as he unzipped his backpack and stuffed those 4 rolls of toilet paper and a pack of razors inside – right next to everything else he owned.
“Have a good day,” I said.
He nodded. His head hung low.
In those eyes I saw gratitude. I saw someone’s father. Perhaps someone’s son or brother. Though I might never know his story, I do know that he matters.
I walked to my car and by the time I turned around he was gone – the image of those dark blue eyes deeply ingrained in my Good Friday memory.