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The Tattooed Stranger

He was kind of scary. He sat there on the grass with his cardboard sign, his
dog (actually his dog was adorable) and tattoos running up and down both
arms and even on his neck. His sign proclaimed him to be "stuck and hungry"
and to please help. I'm a sucker for anyone needing help. My husband both
hates and loves this quality in me.

I pulled the van over and in my rearview mirror, contemplated this man,
tattoos and all. He was youngish, maybe forty. He wore one of those
bandannas tied over his head, biker/pirate style. Anyone could see he was
dirty and had a scraggly beard. But if you looked closer, you could see that
he had neatly tucked in the black T-shirt, and his things were in a small,
tidy bundle. Nobody was stopping for him. I could see the other drivers take
one look and immediately focus on something else - anything else. It was so
hot out. I could see in the man's very blue eyes how dejected and tired and
worn-out he felt.

The sweat was trickling down his face. As I sat with the air-conditioning
blowing, the scripture suddenly popped into my head. "Inasmuch as ye have
done it unto the least of these, my brethren, so ye have done it unto me." I
reached down into my purse and extracted a ten dollar bill. My twelve-year
old son, Nick knew right away what I was doing. "Can I take it to him, Mom?"
"Be careful, honey." I warned and handed him the money. I watched in the
mirror as he rushed over to the man, and with a shy smile, handed it to him.
I saw the man, startled, stand and take the money, putting it into his back
pocket. "Good," I thought to myself, "now he will at least have a hot meal
tonight." I felt satisfied, proud of myself. I had made a sacrifice and now
I could go on with my errands. When Nick got back into the car, he looked at
me with sad, pleading eyes. "Mom, his dog looks so hot and the man is really
nice." I knew I had to do more. "Go back and tell him to stay there, that we
will be back in fifteen minutes," I told Nick. He bounded out of the car and
ran to tell the tattooed stranger. We then ran to the nearest store and
bought our gifts carefully. "It can't be too heavy," I explained to the
children. "He has to be able to carry it around with him."

We finally settled on our purchases. A bag of "Ol' Roy" (I hoped it was good
- it looked good enough for me to eat! How do they make dog food look that
way?); a flavored chew-toy shaped like a bone; a water dish, bacon flavored
snacks (for the dog); two bottles of water (one for the dog, one for Mr.
Tattoos); and some people snacks for the man. We rushed back to the spot
where we had left him, and there he was, still waiting. And still nobody
else was stopping for him. With hands shaking, I grabbed our bags and
climbed out of the car, all four of my children following me, each carrying
gifts. As we walked up to him, I had a fleeting moment of fear, hoping he
wasn't a serial killer. I looked into his eyes and saw something that
startled me and made me ashamed of my judgment. I saw tears. He was fighting
like a little boy to hold back his tears. How long had it been since someone
showed this man kindness? I told him I hoped it wasn't too heavy for him to
carry and showed him what we had brought. He stood there, like a child at
Christmas, and I felt like my small contributions were so inadequate. When I
took out the water dish, he snatched it out of my hands as if it were solid
gold and told me he had had no way to give his dog water. He gingerly set it
down, filled it with the bottled water we brought, and stood up to look
directly into my eyes. His were so blue, so intense and my own filled with
tears as he said "Ma'am, I don't know what to say." He then put both hands
on his bandanna clad head and just started to cry. This man, this "scary"
man, was so gentle, so sweet, so humble. I smiled through my tears and said
"Don't say anything." Then I noticed the tattoo on his neck. It said "Mama

As we all piled into the van and drove away, he was on his knees,
arms around his dog, kissing his nose and smiling. I waved cheerfully and
then fully broke down in tears. I have so much. My worries seem so trivial
and petty now. I have a home, a loving husband, four beautiful children. I
have a bed. I wondered where he would sleep tonight. My step-daughter,
Brandie turned to me and said in the sweetest little- girl voice, "I feel so
good." Although it seemed as if we had helped him, the man with the tattoos
gave us a gift that I will never forget. He taught that no matter what the
outside looks like, inside each of us is a human being deserving of
kindness, of compassion, of acceptance. He opened my heart. Tonight and
every night I will pray for the gentleman with the tattoos and his dog. And
I will hope that God will send more people like him into my life to remind
me what's really important. 

Copyright 1999 by Susan Fahncke 
E-mail - Susan@2theheart.com 

To see other stories written by Susan Fahncke, and other inspirational 
stories from authors around the world, please visit http://www.2theheart.com


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