I felt nervous as the man approached us. Was it his disheveled hair or the fact that he badly needed a belt?
The crooked way he walked made me wonder if he was under the influence of something, maybe drugs, since I smelled no liquor. Although I try to not judge appearances on the sidewalk at our state’s only abortion facility, one needs to be watchful, discerning, and prepared for anything.
Along with a heightened awareness, I’ve also learned in my years praying there that we can’t know from mere exterior whether someone approaching us is friend or foe. It’s almost always one or the other. I can’t recall meeting anyone there claiming complete neutrality in this zone of our city. Even the fence-straddling folks will admit, when pressed, to a certain leaning.
In the small amount of time I had to size up the situation, I guessed he was about to say something unkind, or maybe ask for money like so many of his sort on the street. He weaved slightly toward the two escorts giggling on the gray carpet next to the door taking an unusually-placed selfie, then inched closer to us.
We were just beyond them on the sidewalk, two umbrellas covering our trio reciting the Stations of the Cross: a version inspired by—maybe even written by—St. John Paul II. The recitations and prayers were specifically prolife-focused and powerful in that setting.
Was he bothered by the words? Annoyed by our prayers? What might he be thinking as he breathed near our umbrellas?
As we continued praying, I noticed him reaching into his pocket, and my imagination swirled. I’d just read about an elderly sidewalk advocate who’d been hospitalized after holding vigil. Most days, I feel rather fearless on the sidewalk, despite knowing that it can be a provocation just to be there. On this day, with gloomy rain trickling down in a mist, and memories of a Notre Dame fire still haunting, it seemed anything might be possible.
“Trust me,” I heard from within. As the man dug deeper for whatever he was about to reveal, I did just that.
Within seconds, the mystery was solved, and for some unknown reason, I was the blessed recipient. The man, whom I’d looked at with curiosity and caution just moments before, had quietly pressed into my hand a crinkled-up dollar bill before sauntering away.
I felt the money in my hand, stunned. Instead of him asking us for a few bucks for a burger, he’d given money to me. It may well have been his last for the day—maybe meant for supper, or perhaps a desperate cigarette, or something else to keep him going. Yet, here it was in my hand.
This man wasn’t some lost soul on the sidewalk looking to pick a fight or beg. No, not at all. He was Jesus in disguise, wanting us to know that though we might not witness a save that day, he’d seen our hearts and wanted to reward us.
In his form, I envisioned the widow and her mite, offering the last bit of what she had for love of her Lord, trusting that if she gave all, he would too. In that moment, I knew the divine hand had just reached into that space on the sidewalk, confirming to us that God is with us in every moment of our “yeses.”
My two friends returned to praying, but I couldn’t just yet. As the unkempt young man continued eastward, I saw a man from Nazareth who’d helped set the whole universe in motion, yet loved me and everyone on that sidewalk, but who’d also chosen a clear side—the side of life—and wanted us to know.
Running after him, I called out, “Sir?” He kept going. “Sir!” I called louder. He finally turned around. Holding up the dollar, I said with sincerity, “Thank you!”
“You’re doing a good thing, you know?” he said. He then shook my hand in a most uncustomary fashion and disappeared into the day.
Tucking the crumpled dollar into my pocket, I felt as though I were the keeper of a bag of gold coins. I’d come to give but had instead received. I felt rich; rich in love, in faith, and in knowing our small attempts mean something big to our Lord. Our efforts are worth a crunched-up dollar and a whole lot more.
[Note: I write about my experiences on the sidewalk Downtown Fargo on Wednesday, the day abortions happen at our state’s only abortion facility, for New Earth magazine — the official news publication of the Fargo Diocese. I hope you find “Sidewalk Stories” helpful in understanding the truth about abortion and how it plays out tragically each week here in Fargo, N.D. The preceding ran in New Earth’s June 2019 issue.]