By John F. Zurn
When I was a young boy, one of my most troubling problems proved to be sensitivity. This difficulty handling emotions often embarrassed me because it made me appear immature. Any type of scolding would trigger tears, but so could hurt feelings, or mourning the death of a pet. Whether at school or at home, I almost always seemed to
cry “at the drop of a hat.”
However, on one humid summer afternoon, this sensitivity allowed me to perceive a much bigger world than I had ever known. While mowing our lawn that day, I noticed a figure limping up our drive from the highway. The closer he drew near, the more I could observe his appearance. In addition to his conspicuous limp, he seemed slightly bent over, with oily hair, and ragged, shiny clothes. His shoes appeared to be split in half with gaping holes. His face seemed anxious and weary.
When the homeless man – who we used to call hobos back then – finally, limped up to me, he said politely, “Hi yung feller. I’m a little down on my luck. I got my wallet stole. I haven’t ate in two days. I’d sure apprecat a sandwich. I can mow yur lawn fer ya.”
I felt so confused and distressed seeing the old man that I did what any young child might do; I ran into the house and explained the situation to my mother. After I told her, I half expected she might call the police or tell the man to leave. Instead, she sent me back to the porch to keep the homeless man company while she made two liverwurst sandwiches and prepared some instant tea.
The moment I returned to the old man, I saw him attempting to mow the lawn while hobbling badly. I snatched the mower out of his hands, so he sat back down. For some reason, he then removed one of his grimy shoes and showed me a very swollen toe. He mentioned it had been broken for a long time. As soon as he put his shoe back
on he asked, “How them sandwiches comin?”.
I rushed back into the house, and my mother gave me the food to carry out to the porch. By the time I handed the sandwiches and tea to the old guy, he grabbed them out of my hand and ate ravenously. Five minutes later, the old soul headed for the highway again and slowly disappeared around a bend in the road
As a young boy that afternoon marked the first time I actually felt genuine compassion. The broken man I met briefly that summer day affected me deeply. My feelings felt much more appropriate than my childish bouts of emotions. I somehow realized even then that I would see him in every town and on many streets. I’m sixty
seven years old now – an old man myself – but I can easily declare that this short experience has had a deep and lasting effect on my life. It reminded me that life isfragile for all of us.