Gas Station Man

I saw a man crying today.

I was pumping gas into an empty van.  And though absent of fuel, it was full of life.  My sweet girl sat up front and my two bambinos sat on booster seats in the back.  The boy had rolled down the window the big sliding door.  We were being goofy together, exchanging our funniest faces.  But past his face, and past my daughter, through the other window, I saw a man.

He sat alone in a parked car at the pump across from ours.  His seat was leaned back in appropriate Flint fashion.  His arms were veiny and strong, with ink covering forearm and shoulder.  His tank top was worn from too many washes.  He looked like a man who knew the streets.  If I approached him alone on the sidewalk, I would listen carefully as he passed.  

But this man was not selling.  And he was not buying.  He was crying.

I didn't stare, but I was watching.  He couldn't get it back.  Whatever was happening had left him vulnerable.  He would wipe a few tears, strain his neck in an effort to pull it together, only to bury his head in his chest once again.  

I wanted to go to him.  I wanted to ask if he was okay.  It was not yet dark, and I saw no one in the backseat of his car.  I looked around to see if anyone else was aware of the scene.  I wanted to approach him, but I didn't.  I stayed by my nozzle.  It clicked off, telling me that the tank was now full.  I holstered it, and then turned back to affix the cap.  That is when a voice spoke.

"Hey, Mister?"

I looked up and there was the man.  He stood at the back of my van, only 5 feet from where I stood.  His eyes were dry, but his cheeks were red.  He spoke not from strength but from shame.  The shame that comes from begging.

"I... I just need to get home."

He held up his hand that gripped a few ones and some change.  

I was caught off guard.  I wanted to tell him I would buy him a tank.  I wanted to walk over and ask his name and give him my card so we could talk again tomorrow.  I would get to know his life and he would enter mine.  And the world would get a little smaller, and our lives a little bigger.

I pulled out my money clip.  I held it up to show that it was empty.  I gave a shrug of the shoulders that was meant to say, "Sorry" but instead said so much more.

He nodded and turned away from me.  I watched as he walked into the gas station to prepay for $2.65 in gas.  Not even enough for one gallon.  Then I got into my van.  It was full of gas.  It was full of family.  It was full of life.  I pulled away from that place and went on with my life.  

Dear God, you showed me the man who needed your touch, and I would not go to him.  You brought him to me, and I did not answer.  Like Moses, the words fall from my mouth, "Lord, please send someone else."  

I am still full.  And he... he is still empty.