Jesse

I went to Burger King today, the one on the busiest street in town.  As I was driving there, I was debating whether I wanted Subway instead, which would be healthier.  Yet, I decided to keep going straight and get some of those really great BK fries.  While waiting at the stop light in the busy intersection, I saw two people crossing the street, dressed in what seemed like dirty old clothes.  In a flash, I told myself not to judge, since I knew nothing about these two strangers, and I could just as easily be misjudged.

I got to Burger King and ordered a chicken sandwich with large fries.  Nothing sounded better than hot french fries in such a cold day.  As I was waiting for my order, I saw the man from the intersection come in.  He was touching the walls, as if looking for the door.  I soon realized he was blind.  When I opened the door for him, he asked me which way to the cash register.  Just walk straight, I said; it will be on your left.  It took the lady a while to come help him — probably hoping he would just leave.  When she finally came to take his order, she got impatient as this older man with dark skin, old clothes and no sight struggled to get the money out of his pocket.  A couple other customers were waiting in line behind him.  He asked the lady how to get to the Sleep Inn, a hotel in the area.  She tried to give him directions pointing towards her left — perhaps not realizing he couldn’t see her hand.  I was questioning whether to help him get there, but as soon as I got my food, I went to my car.

While in my car, I looked outside and started to question how a blind man would find his way to this hotel, on his own, in the cold and in the middle of a busy street.  If I were blind, I thought, I would be terribly confused.  There would be no way I could find my way around.  So, I went back inside.  He asked which way out, and the lady told him it was on his left — perhaps not realizing he could not see the line.  I helped him find the door out.  While outside, he asked me which way to the hotel.  I looked around and saw the vast space, filled with steps, cars, a four-lane street and everything I would hope not to encounter if I had to walk with my eyes closed.  It’s to your left, I said; would you like me to walk you there?

“Oh, yes, that would be very nice,” he said.  “Jesse, my name is Jesse,” he said, as he extended a hand, while holding on the other his food, water and cane.  I’m Gabriel, I said, as I shook his hand.  I grabbed his arm, and we started walking.  I alerted him of the steps on the way, as well as the cars driving out the parking lot.  His hotel was about half a mile away.  As I walked him there, he started telling me about him, and about how the Red Cross had him at that hotel because his rented home had been completely destroyed in a fire.  I was very sorry to hear that.  I am very sorry to hear that, I said — what else could I have possibly said to that?  What else could I have possibly said to a man who aside from not having sight, had also lost everything, absolutely everything, in a fire.  His clothes, his money, and all of his belongings were gone.  As we walked, I saw the faces on the drivers on that road.  People were clearly judging him, and probably me as well, because they did not understand that this man had just lost everything but his life.  I felt bad because I almost misjudged him and the person who helped him cross that busy street while I was on my way to Burger King.

As we crossed the first street, a large man driving a white pickup truck yelled, “Jesse? What are you doing here man?  Your hotel is all the way over there.”  “Just grabbing something to eat,” Jesse said.  “I heard about your house. Well, good luck man,” he said, as he drove away in his large truck.  For such a large man, he must have a very tiny heart, I said to myself.

We continued to walk towards the hotel, now visible just three blocks ahead.  It turned out Jesse was on his way back from Good Will, where he acquired some clothing that although old and wore out, was enough to keep him warm in this chilly November evening in Michigan.  He asked me about myself, and I said I was a student.  He was very excited to hear about my program, Network Security.  He started telling me stories of apparent blind hackers who work in the online underground, some good and some bad.  He seemed very knowledgeable and intelligent.  We got to the hotel, and I gave him what few bucks I had with me.  It’s not much, I said, but I hope it helps.  He thanked me, and wished me good luck.  “Not that you’ll need it,” he said.  “I’m sure you will end up doing very well.”

I walked back to Burger King and then drove home.  Once home, I could not stop thinking — what is Jesse going to do now?  He has nothing — absolutely nothing — and he is blind.  What is going to happen to him?  I ate my fries, but could not finish them because they tasted so bitter.  Everything tasted bitter.  The whole world seemed bitter.  Moments later, I called the Red Cross, wondering what they would do for Jesse.  They told me the Red Cross usually puts fire victims in a hotel for a few days, gives them some money, and that’s pretty much it.  They said if I wanted more information about his case, I would have to call back Monday during business hours.  But I couldn’t wait.  I couldn’t stop thinking about this man who needed help.  I went online and found a couple of churches in the area.  Both churches told me to call back on Monday during business hours.  For the rest of the afternoon, I could not stop thinking about this man who lost all he had.

Later at night, I remembered a dream that I had a few months prior to this.  I was in living in Canada, in a very large and beautiful house.  The back was a wooded area with a small creek.  I was crossing a bridge over the creek by my mother’s side.  It was chilly, and it seemed like one of those cloudy days in November when it starts to snow.  My sisters, my nephews and nieces, my brother in law and my mom were all there.  They seemed happy to finally be safe.  Suddenly, it started snowing.  My nephews and nieces were rejoicing on the bridge, impressed by the little white flakes.  The oldest two were trying to be cool and keep away from the little ones, but I knew that inside they were also very excited to see snow for the first time.  Right then and there, I knew I was dying, but I wasn’t worried about it.  I was dying knowing that I made so many people happy, and that my family was happy and safe.  Right there, in this first winter snow, in the wooded area behind the large house and on top of the bridge that crossed the shallow creek, I died.  I died happy and in peace.

I remember waking up the next morning, very excited, and ready to live my life.  My friend Kristin called and she said I sounded happy on the phone.  When she asked me why, I said it was because I had died.  “What?!” she screamed.  Hold on, don’t freak out, I said, as I tried to reassure her.  I dreamed of my death, but I dreamed that I made many people happy before I died.  That is why I sound excited.  That is why I sound happy.  I don’t think she quite understood what I meant.

Tonight, as I remembered this dream, I thought to myself: maybe this is where everything starts.  Maybe I am supposed to help Jesse.  Maybe he is my innocent, the one I am supposed to help and protect.  Perhaps he is my first case, the first one in my journey, the first one I should help.  But how?  How could I help him?  I was desperate not knowing what to do, and just thinking about what he would do without a home, clothes, food, a family and sight.  I needed some advice.  Naturally, the best advice could only come from the one person who has always put the needs of others before her own.  It was time to call the ultimate philanthropist: my mother.  I could not reach her, but I did speak to my sister.  She seemed not to care that much, arguing things like that happen in Guatemala all the time.  But I did not want Jesse to end up like the thousands of disabled homeless elderly in Guatemala.  I wanted to help him.  I called my dad, and he sounded sorry about this guy but did not think much of it.  I called a couple of friends, who also dismissed my store before I could even ask for advice.

What kind of sick world is this? I thought.  A poor old man loses EVERYTHING in a fire, and all people can say is, “Poor guy. Oh well.”  How can my own family and friends be so heartless?  How could the people at Burger King not help this man to at least find the door?  How could this guy in the pick up truck dare to wish Jesse good luck, and then take off?  How could these churches dismiss his needs because it wasn’t their regular business hours?  Jesse never asked for help.  He never asked for anything.  He was just grateful to be taken to the hotel on that confusing, busy street.  But even though he did not ask for anything, he had nothing.  He lost everything.  I could not, and still do not, understand how people can just not care!

A few minutes ago, my mom called.  She said my sister mentioned something about an old man.  I told her my story, and she was quick to suggest talking to other churches tomorrow morning before service — specially African-American churches, as they might be more open to help Jesse.  She also suggested calling Jesse in the morning and finding out more about his situation.  Does he have anyone to turn to?  What are his most oppressing needs at the moment?  Would he be willing to come with me to church tomorrow morning?

My mother’s advice, something I dismiss all too often, was a relief.  She had the answers I needed.  At least now I know that if I ended up going to Burger King and not Subway, perhaps it was for a reason.  If I saw this man on the street and tried not to judge him, it was for a reason.  If he just so happen to come into the same restaurant, against all odds, and I helped him once, then maybe he is my innocent, the one I am supposed to help and protect.  Maybe I can bring to him some relief, and even a little bit of happiness.  Maybe the people I was thinking about in my dream were people like him, who needed a friend, and found one in me.

About Gabriel Mongefranco

Gabriel Mongefranco is your software developer for all things data: extraction, integration, analytics and security. He is also a blogger, a poet, a proud father and a faithful Christian. He is always eager to contract with faith-based nonprofits! Learn more.