I correspond by email with a man I once worked for. Haven’t seen him in 15 years but he hired me at a time in my life when I needed meaningful work. We both had come late in life to the role of professional beggar for a charity and we liked the work a great deal.
He had spent most of his life as an executive in retail and had thrived professionally many years in that field living according to the motto “Stack ‘em high and watch ‘em fly.” He was an extrovert and retail can use all the extroverts it can get.
I had spent most of my life working as an editor for a magazine, a newspaper and even a defense contractor. I did that work because I enjoyed it and it was something someone would pay me to do. Not much else was in my quiver of skills. Besides, one doesn’t have to be an extrovert to do it.
My old boss and I had little in common except we both enjoyed trying to motivate people with money to part with some of it to help the poor. Too bad we are both retired now. Pope Francis’ declaration of a “Year of Mercy” would have given us a little more ammunition to raise funds. You’d be surprised how much ammunition you need to convince people with more than enough money to help those who have too little to live on.
In any event, my old boss sent me an email a few months back saying he had been told he has two years at most to live. He realizes he may not live all of those two years. But his spirits, at least from what I can tell from his emails, remain strong.
A week or so later, he wrote again, this time about an incident that had happened one recent morning in his life. I’ll let him tell the story from here. I don’t think he’d mind as long as I do not disclose his name or his whereabouts.
He began by saying something much different than I had ever heard him say before:
"There are no coincidences---God has a plan for every moment of your life."
As a believer, I understood what he was saying but had never really thought about God having a plan for every moment of my life. There are too many moments that I remember with remorse that I know He could not possibly have wanted anything to with. But I’ll let my old boss continue his story:
"This morning I went to the 8 o'clock Mass. As my wife cannot attend early weekday Masses, I purchased a pyx in which I can bring home the Eucharist for her to receive Communion.
“Returning from church, I was going to go to a 7-11 for a cup of coffee, but as I drove down the street it hit me that I really wasn’t comfortable taking the pyx into the store and so I moved to a left-hand lane and went to a Burger King drive-thru.
"Right before getting to the Burger King, I saw a man resting on his bicycle. It was piled high--back and front--with green garbage bags full of his belongings.
"I decided to bring him some breakfast from Burger King on my way back. As I got nearer to him, my memory kicked in. I realized I had seen this same man--a week or more before--resting in the same spot. I had purchased an extra breakfast for him then and went back to give it to him--but he had gone and I could not see him anywhere in the vicinity.
“Today, it was the same man. I decided this time I would give him cash to buy his own breakfast—plus I had a Walmart gift card I could give him to buy groceries or whatever he needed.
"So, I bought my coffee and hurried back to the access street and the man was still there—resting on the garbage bag on the front of his bicycle.
"I stopped, rolled down my window and said, 'Sir, are you OK?'
"The man--I estimated him to be in his late 20’s--sleepily acknowledged my question and I handed him some cash for his breakfast and the Walmart gift card.
"His eyes lit up as he said, ‘Thanks.’
"I told him 'God loves You.'
"He replied ‘Yeah,' and that ended our encounter.
"I know that Christ was with me in the pyx. I know that He had nudged me to get in the left lane and go to Burger King rather than 7-11.
"My experience was far from a chance encounter. Now I will look for this young man as I return from my weekday Mass.
"If he has moved on, that’s fine.
"At least I was given the opportunity to help someone in need."
My old boss may have two years or less left to live but he’s making good use of his time.
Like me, he has never been poor. Like me he has begged for the poor and has been paid to do it.
Unlike me, he has now been told he is dying and he is still looking for ways to help the poor.
In this “Year of Mercy,” many of us, whether we are believers or not, should be happy for the life we have. And many of us should have greater motivation to reach out and help those who have a whole lot less or maybe nothing at all.
Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chicago Tribune and Commonweal. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs=