The Can Man
Today while we were putting our purchases in the car at the store, my ten year old daughter asked me a question that brought tears to my eyes.
Patrick, her older brother, and I have befriended the can man on our street. He rides through daily on his bicycle asking permission to go through people’s trash to gather bottles and cans. I see him once or twice a day carrying huge, black plastic bags full of cans and bottles to the grocery store a mile away to recycle for cash. He told me once that he lives at the end of my neighborhood. He may rent a room, but I suspect that he goes through a break in the yards to the deserted golf course behind us and lives in the pepper trees. There’s no water there.
Last week we were outside enjoying the evening’s cool air when he rode by. He stopped to asked to use the water hose on the front of the house to wash his hands. As he walked past, I saw that he had a large infection on his ankle, and told him that he should get it looked at. He said, yeah, he knew that. Patrick ran for gloves and first aid supplies, cleaned it, debrided it, squirted an antibiotic ointment on it and covered it with a bandage. A couple of days later, he came by when we were out, and Patrick rebandaged it. We both told him to get to an ER. They have to treat you, I said.
For a few days we waved back and forth. I give him ice water. He uses the water hose to wash his face and hands. I talked to him last night and found that he did go to the emergency room over the weekend where the doctor gave him a prescription for antibiotic but was more worried about the fungus he has on his feet. The doctor told him to keep his feet dry and clean and to change his socks regularly. How easy is it for a person who lives under trees without a water supply to do this?
At the store today I bought some waterless cleanser, antifungal spray and powder to give to him the next time he peddles by. That’s when my daughter asked me her question. She said in her sweet, small voice, “Why do you care so much about him?”
I hadn’t thought about that. I hadn’t thought about what she was seeing or what she was thinking. To me, I’ve been respectful of this man and treated him like a neighbor. I haven’t thought about why. I had to think about that answer, and this is what I told her.
Because Jesus loved the lepers. Because Jesus touched the people that other people were afraid to touch. Because those people deserved his touch as much as anyone else in the crowd around him. And because that homeless man is the closest we have to a leper today.
I’ve often thought that the homeless problem is so large that I can’t do anything about it, and then God puts this man in front of my driveway and teaches my daughter what Christ’s love means. I didn’t do that. He did.