I’d gone to buy some Feta, to create a Greek salad that would feed my hunger and would be light and fresh enough for a scorching summer’s day. As I walked up to the market I saw an old fellow – grizzled beard, long white hair and clothes that looked like they’d just been swiped from someone’s dirty hamper.
He seemed to be rooting through a garbage can – those ones that are fitted and locked within a cement container to prevent vandals from messing with them. I felt sorry for him so I too rooted, in my pocket, and found a single Loonie (Canadian Dollar) which I decided to spontaneously give.
As I approached I noticed his socks – thick sport socks – into which a pair of soiled sweat pants had been stuffed. He seemed to be fretting with some plastic grocery bags that were filled with bits and pieces that I imagined had been rescued from the garbage. I was filled with compassion, and regretted that I didn’t have more cash to give him.
“Hi, ” I said, coming up from behind. I realized this approach had been the wrong one when he gripped the seat of his bicycle that lay casually beside him. “I’m wondering if you’d like to have this Loonie?” I asked, proferring this lonely bit of metal to a hand that reflexively opened to receive it. He looked at the coin on his palm quizzically and asked me in a sincere voice, “What makes you think I need this? Look at all the food I’ve got in these bags?”
I was taken off guard by his reply, thinking that he’d be grateful for my offer. He pointed to the grocery bags again, and they were indeed filled with food. It seems that I’d interrupted him in the act of loading his shopping onto his bike. I was embarrassed as he gave me back my Loonie. “Sorry, ” I said. “I thought you were taking stuff from the garbage can and could use the money.” Later, I couldn’t believe I’d said that. I felt like someone who wants to make a good impresson but can’t stop tripping on his words.
“No problem,” he replied, “thanks for your kindness.” He’d been gallant – a gentleman whose elegant, refined remark had forgiven me my false assumption. Although he still seems like a paradox, he has become, for me, a Lord of Life – someone whom fate brings to teach me sacred things that I’ve forgotten. In this case it was something I learned in the first grade: don’t judge a book by its cover.