Cruelty and Grace

When I walk with my friends on the Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail, I rarely notice the distance we cover.  That’s because we’re talking so much, enjoying ourselves.

Today wasn’t any different, but the conversation was more introspective and painful.  My friend and I spoke about a rash of separations and divorces we knew about, about a friend’s recent diagnosis with cancer, about another woman — a friend of my friend — who had been in a car wreck over the weekend.  That wreck killed three teenagers and left two others in critical condition.

All this sadness, illness and death on a beautiful day when the sun shone and the sky was a deep blue and people jogged and walked and pushed strollers and walked their dogs.  The universe is indifferent and life goes on.  What other lesson can you draw from this?  I don’t know.

But later, as my husband and I came back from our usual brunch outing, we waited at a light on the 183 access road.  A homeless man with a sign asking for money approached our car, then turned around.  A woman in another, nearby car was waving and calling out to him.  He approached her car and I wondered what I was about to see.  Could it possibly be a cruel joke — with the car pulling away at the last minute?  It seemed like that kind of day; it would have been terrible, but it wouldn’t have surprised me.  Today had already reminded me of the random cruelty of life.

But I watched, as we sat there.  Another man opened the trunk of the car the woman was in and pulled something out.  He handed the homeless man something.  Then the woman reached out of the window and — as far as I could tell — handed the homeless man money.

The homeless man returned to his place close to our car.  He was holding a pair of shoes in his right hand.  He jumped up in the air, jubilantly, and I noticed, then, that his feet were bare.  His face was upturned to the sky and he crossed himself with his free hand.

The light turned green and we moved on.  But I keep seeing the homeless man in my mind’s eye, with his exuberant jump and his sheer happiness.  And I would like to thank the man and woman in that car who did something for all of us today, who made this universe seem less indifferent and cruel, and more hopeful.  Bless you, both.

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