My husband and I enjoy riding the train from our home in Williamsburg to Alexandria, Virginia. We often take this trip after Christmas to celebrate our January first anniversary. It’s a chance to enjoy the shops and restaurants that line King Street and take in an opera at the Kennedy Center. The streets of Alexandria are still decorated with sparkling lights and sometimes a sprinkling of snow. At sunset each day, we bundle up and walk from our hotel near the train station to the riverfront to experience the post-Christmas ambiance.
At the end of one such visit, we had checked out of the motel, deciding to wait in the lobby for our train rather than schlepping our luggage to the station in an icy downpour. With two hours to spare, we made ourselves comfortable near the cozy fireplace with hot beverages and settled in to read on our Kindles, basking in the afterglow of another memorable anniversary celebration.
The man pacing back and forth scarcely garnered my attention, caught up as I was in a riveting plot. I recall a fleeting thought that he was a hotel employee beginning to remove the lavish Christmas decorations or perhaps a contractor working to restore power to a broken elevator. Occasionally, he would step outside for a smoke under the covered portico. It didn’t occur to me until several hours later that his light tee-shirt was soaked with rain, not sweat, and his khaki pants weren’t stained from working in the hotel. Rather, they were filthy from not being washed for who-knows-how-long. With rain-soaked clothing and no coat, his pacing through the lobby was an attempt to shelter from the bitter weather. Each time he walked past the snack bar, his empty stomach must have growled in response to the aromas of fresh popcorn, roasted peanuts, and coffee.
How could we not have noticed that he was homeless? How could we have been so wrapped up in our own comfort that we were oblivious to this man’s plight? It would have been easy to pull a sweatshirt from my husband’s suitcase and offer it to him. We could have bought him a cup of coffee and a snack. We could have tucked a twenty dollar bill into his hand. Such simple gestures would have meant everything to him while posing no sacrifice for us. But it wasn’t until our train pulled into the Williamsburg station several hours later that the reality of the situation dawned on us.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Each time I recall the incident, I am reminded of Christ’s parable about the good Samaritan, whose benevolence is contrasted with the priest who “passed by on the other side.”
I wonder if God whispered to us in that hotel lobby. When we failed to hear the whisper, did God nudge us, but we were too self involved to notice? To this day, years later, I still carry guilt when I think about our missed opportunity to minister to that homeless man. I’d like to think it was someone else’s turn, that God was nudging them instead of us. Even so, I learned an important lesson, a lesson that has taught me to pray, “Oh, God, make me aware of human need, and show me how I can meet that need before it’s too late.”
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of four award-winning essays and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Her latest book, After Rain, is a collection of devotions offering comfort and peace in times of trial. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com