Becoming a Contributor
Stuck in a long line of traffic, I sighed heavily and turned up the radio to overpower my singing as I planned to sing I sing through the frustration.
It was then that I noticed him. The neon green vest caught my eye from a distance. Following that, it was his smile, bright and glowing from his chocolate brown skin. He waved to all who passed, and practically bowed with thanks to those who offered $1 out their car window. The light changed to green, and we sped on with our too-busy lives.
He continued to wave like Santa Claus with a few well-kept secrets. With more energy and a better attitude than I had to start the day.
And I am a Christian. I am the one is supposed to be charged with reaching out to the world, right?
He was selling street newspapers as part of a unique program in Nashville, Tennessee. Rather than standing on a corner with a sign, begging for money. each person, either homeless or formerly homeless, becomes a vendor by paying 25 cents for a newspaper, then reselling it for one dollar. The Contributor, as it is called, focuses on the many aspects of life on the streets. The articles offer stories of hope and overcoming, opinion pieces and even a bit of humor with a renamed title of the Horoscope section. They call it, ’The Hoboscope.’
I must admit our daughter was first in our family to purchase one of these newspapers, and she quickly decided that she needed more dollars. That’s just the way her heart beats. And I wanted mine to do the same.
So I decided to purchase a newspaper the next day, and made sure to have a dollar on hand, which is a rare occurence.
But the next day, a Thursday, he wasn’t there. No neon vest. No good morning wave. No smile to launch my day.
Was he okay? Had he changed locations? Injured, maimed, or in the hospital? Hit by a car?
Much to my relief, he reappeared the next day, but I was unable to reach him. I had my dollar ready every morning that following week, but the timing was never quite right. I was too far back in line when the light turned red. Soon, I found myself praying for more traffic to come from the side roads so I could stay at the red light longer.
What happened to my regularly scheduled morning frustration?
It may have been erased by focusing on someone other than myself, for a change.
Finally, the next Thursday, I was in the perfect position to get his attention. But the corner was vacant. Two Thursdays in a row, he was missing in action.
By Friday, I caught a glimpse of him again in the distance. I may have even slowed my pace a bit to make sure I was at the right place at just the right time. The light turned yellow a few cars in front of me, and rather than race through it, I slowed to a stop. Perfection.
I rolled down my window and held out the dollar I so proudly had reserved for him.
“You were gone yesterday. Are you okay?” I asked, as he handed me the newspaper.
He beamed his trademark smile, crinkled the wrinkles around his eyes brought by the decades, and thought for a minute. “Oh, no Ma’am. I have GED classes on Thursday mornings.”
I gulped. ”I’m very proud of you.”
“Have a nice day!” I called out as he moved on to the next car.
“I already have, Ma’am. I already have.”
Tears blurred my vision as I forged my way through the rest of the morning rush hour. I was thankful that our paths had crossed. Thankful that an organization like The Contributor had found a way to make a difference for those who were willing to put forth the effort to change their own lives.
And more than this, I was thankful for the man on the corner and my daughter who taught me to become a contributor.