“Mr. William, is everything okay? I noticed you’ve been strangely quiet today. Can I get you anything, Sir?”
My back was facing Rose when she entered my office. I was sitting in my favorite chair staring out the window. It was a gloomy day indeed. The rain poured, distorting my view of the garden as if I were gazing at a watercolor painting.
“Just taking in this lovely storm, Rose,” I replied. “I think I will continue to sit here with my thoughts. Please let me know when dinner is ready.”
“Of course, Mr. William.”
The one thing I liked about rainstorms was the natural white noise they created. The howling winds and heavy rain beating against each window had become like the voice of a visitor in my home. Rose and I are the only residents in this 6,000 square foot mansion, therefore it’s usually very quiet. Rose, my housekeeper—although I have come to think of her as a good friend—was hired 10 years ago at the insistence of my daughter, shortly after my wife passed.
That evening, Rose prepared one of my favorite dinners—London broil, green beans, and mashed potatoes.
“Rose, please join me for dinner tonight. I no longer wish to converse with the rain.” Rose and I let out a laugh. “I’d like to discuss something with you.”
“It would be my pleasure, Mr. William.”
“I did a great deal of thinking today. I am 83 years old and I know I don’t have many years left.”
“Mr. William!” Rose’s body stiffened as she placed her hand over her chest. “Have you become ill?”
“If I am Rose, I’m not aware of it,” I said in jest as I cut through the meat on my plate. “Don’t worry I feel perfectly fine. I imagine there comes a time as we grow old when we’re okay with death. I’ve accomplished all of my goals, but I am lonely. I still miss my wife every day.” I could see sadness growing in Rose’s eyes. “All I’m saying is when the day comes for me to check out, I’ll be ready. I will be okay with it.”
“It saddens me to hear you speak of this.” Rose said with tears in her eyes. “I am happy that I had the opportunity to come to know you as a friend, Sir.”
“Thank you for your kind words. But I am saying all this for a reason. There is one more thing I need to do before my time is up and I need your help.”
“I’m all ears, Mr. William.”
“I vowed as a young boy to give to others who were less fortunate. My mother instilled that in me. I can still hear her soft yet stern voice so clearly—'Remember William, it’s always best to give to others no matter how little you have. It will bring joy to that person and even greater joy to you.’ I suddenly found myself lost in the cherished memories of my childhood.
“Mr. William . . .?”
“Forgive me, Rose. I drifted for a moment. With that being said, I’ve decided to give $20 thousand dollars to a complete stranger.”
Rose’s eyes widened and her tone of voice heightened. “Twenty-thousand? That’s a lot of money, Sir. How will you determine this lucky stranger?”
“I’m going to become homeless.”
“I beg your pardon, Sir? Homeless? No disrespect Mr. William, but are you sure you’ve been feeling okay?”
“Hahaha.” Surely Rose thought I had lost it. “What I mean is, I’m going to pretend to be a homeless man.” I went on to share every detail of my witty plan.
“Starting next week, I will go into the city dressed as a homeless man. I will sit on the corner of 8th and Houston, Monday through Wednesday, for the next four weeks. My hope is to become acquainted with a few individuals. I will carefully take note, in my little black book, of how each person treats me as a homeless person. I am looking for someone who displays empathy, respect, and a strong sense of character. When the four weeks are over, I will choose my lucky stranger.”
The weather was beautiful on that early Monday morning. The sun shined so bright it was blinding. I sat in the back seat of my Chevy Suburban as my driver drove Rose and me to the corner of 8th and Houston. Maybe Rose was right. Maybe I did lose it. Who pretends to be homeless for a month? Shunning my thoughts, I refocused on my purpose and it all made sense again.
I marked my corner as I laid an old blanket on the ground. I sat down and placed a baseball cap beside me to collect the spare change of anyone kind enough to give. The night before, Rose made a cardboard sign for me to hold. Written in big bold black letters it read, “ANY SPARE CHANGE WILL HELP! THANK YOU!” I reached in my pants pocket—a pair of old tattered pants that were two sizes too big—and pulled out my little black book and an ink pen. Staring at it I thought, in four weeks this book will hold the name of one lucky stranger.
Noon rolled around and the streets were full of people. I watched businessmen and women flow in and out of the surrounding eateries. People began to take notice of me. I was greeted with many “Good Afternoon’s” and “God bless you, Sir,” as they threw coins and dollar bills into my hat. Rose kept a watch on my surroundings from the other side of the street as she had promised.
Before I could look away, I saw a young man standing on the corner beside Rose. As he waited his turn to cross the street, he made eye contact looking at me intently as if he knew me. He crossed the street and headed in my direction. Unexpectedly, he bent down next to me, placed a $5 dollar bill in the hat, looked me in the eyes, nodded respectfully, and walked away.
That image stayed with me for the rest of that day. I looked through my little black book that evening. Unfortunately, I did not have much written down. But I did take note of that one young man. Not only did he give more money than anyone else, but the respect he displayed struck me. I hoped to see him again.
It was now day four of my experiment. I sat on the same corner, wearing the same tattered clothes, and holding the same sign. I had yet to see the young man until I turned my head toward the opposite corner. It was around noon and there he was. I watched as he made his way across the street and over to me. Once again, he bent down next to me. This time instead of placing money in the hat, he spoke.
“Can I buy you something to eat, Sir?”
As I lifted my head to look at him, I saw compassion in his eyes. “Some cold water would be nice. Thank you.” The young man nodded and walked away. At that moment, I knew in my heart I had found the lucky recipient of the $20 thousand dollars. When he returned with the water, I felt compelled to ask his name.
“Excuse me young man. If you don’t mind could you tell me your name please?”
“Thank you for the water, Isaiah. I hope to see you again soon.”
“Possibly tomorrow. If you’ll be here?”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The next day, as if right on schedule I saw Isaiah walking toward me. We greeted each other as he bent down to place $5 in the baseball cap like before. He then nodded and walked away. I used the bottom of my shirt to wipe the sweat from my brow as I glanced at Rose who stood on the opposite side of the street. She was concerned about an old man like myself sitting in that type of heat. I gave her a look assuring her I was fine. Suddenly I noticed someone standing beside me. It was Isaiah. To my surprise he sat down next me and handed me a bag of food from a fancy restaurant nearby. That day Isaiah and I got to know each other a little better.
Isaiah worked as a waiter at the fancy restaurant. He skipped his senior year of college because he could not afford to pay his tuition. He got a job as a waiter hoping to earn enough money to go back to school. I was in awe that he sat down on a grimy street corner with me, a homeless man, for his entire lunch break. We laughed, empathized with each other, and found out we had quite a bit in common including wise mothers who once told us, “It’s always best to give to others no matter how little you have.” That was the last conversation Isaiah and I had on that street corner.
Later that night, I sat down with Rose informing her that after only two weeks my experiment was complete. I shared with her everything I had written down about Isaiah in my little black book. She was just as sure as I was that I had found “the one.” Before bed, I sat in my office and composed a letter to Isaiah. It read:
You probably didn’t recognize me in my clean clothes and shaved face. But it’s me, William. Yes, the homeless man you met on the corner of 8th and Houston. To be honest with you, I am not really a homeless man. In fact, I am a wealthy man who so desperately wanted to help someone less fortunate than myself, that I became “homeless” just to do so. I pretended to be homeless in hopes of finding someone who would treat me like a normal human being—with dignity and respect—despite what I seemingly lacked. As a result, I found you. I would like to reward you for your kindness. Enclosed in this envelope is a check written out to you. I hope it will help you get back to school. You are an awesome young man. I wish you much success.
I placed the letter in an envelope along with a $20 thousand dollar check signed by me.
It has been three days since I saw Isaiah. This particular morning after getting dressed, my appearance was the exact opposite of a homeless man. I had my driver drop me off in the city at the restaurant where Isaiah worked. Once seated, a waiter approached me. To my surprise it was Isaiah. He didn’t recognize me, and I decided not to give away my identity. Although I knew he could sense something familiar about me.
Lunch had come to an end and it was time for Isaiah to be rewarded for his acts of kindness. When he came back to my table to retrieve the bill, I placed the envelope in his hand and said, “It was nice meeting you kid, take care of yourself.”
My dear mother was right, as she always had been. It brought me immense joy knowing I was able to bring happiness to someone who truly deserved it. After leaving the restaurant, I took a walk to the corner of 8th and Houston before heading home. Unfortunately, a real homeless man had taken up residence in my old spot. I walked up to him, bent down, and placed the $23.18 in his cup that I collected while sitting on the same corner only a few days before. I looked him in the eyes, nodded respectfully, and walked away.