Morning. I’m drinking my coffee when his photo pops up in my cellphone memories. And I’m thrown three years backward. I remember it all too well.
There I am, watching him. He sits on the steps of the Shell Station. A backpack beside him. His skin is rawhide. His beard is white.
His name is Buck. He’s from North Carolina. He says he completed two tours in Vietnam.
He’s not here begging, he’s resting his feet.
“My old feet hurt more’n they used to,” says Buck. “Hard getting old, buddy.”
There is a half-smoked cigar next to him. He dug this used cigar from an ashtray. It still has life in it, he says.
He’s sipping coffee.
“First cup’a joe I had in a week. Fella gave me a quarter a few minutes ago. Piled my coins together to buy me a cup.”
When Buck went inside to buy it, there were only cold dregs left in the pot. He asked the cashier if it were possible to brew a fresh pot. She told him to get lost.
“But I’m paying for it,” he insisted.
She escorted him to the door.
So, he’s drinking dregs for which he paid full price—for which he is grateful.
There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them. Who knows if he’s exaggerating or not. Buck has a flare for the dramatic.
Still, his bloody toes poke through the fronts. His middle toenail is missing.
Buck explains, “God says, ‘Don’t worry what you’ll eat, drink, or wear.’ And I believe it. But it’s hard sometimes. ‘Specially when you ain’t eaten and you don’t have [cussword] to wear.”
So I walk inside the gas station on a mission. I ask the aforementioned cashier to brew a fresh pot of coffee—I tell her it’s for me. I am very polite about it.
She smiles and says, “Sure, sweetie.”
Ain’t she sweet.
I buy a hot cup, an armful of snacks, and a pack of Swisher Unsweetened Mini-Cigars. I give them to Buck on the sidewalk, and I tuck a bill into his hand. I wish I had something bigger, but I don’t.
You would think helping someone down on their luck would make you feel good all over. Instead, it just makes me feel like I can’t do nearly enough.
Buck starts crying.
And the truth is, I’m embarrassed to even be telling you all this. Because this story isn’t about me—it’s about Buck.
Buck says with glazed eyes, “Did you know that I see God in you?”
And now I’m the one who has some major eye-glazing going on.
I stumble over my own words. All I can get out is, “Thank you for your service.”
I’m a bumbling fool. The words sounded better in my head than they sounded coming out of my mouth. They seem so… Lightweight.
He smiles. He stands to walk away. His big backpack must weigh eighty pounds.
“Going to Walmart,” he says. “Gon’ buy me some new shoes. Gon’ get me a hot pizza, man. Yessir, just saw God on the street corner.”
And he’s gone.
I’m a middle-aged American. I’ve never known hunger. I’ve never not had a Sheetrock ceiling to cover my head. In many ways I’m spoiled. I’m lazy. I’m selfish. And sometimes, I get so lost in my own self-centered world that I can’t see.
I just met someone. An invisible someone. A man who—despite whatever his problems may be—isn’t lost at all. A man who knows things, different truths than I will ever know.
Yes, he smokes secondhand cigars. But he also sees mankind. He sees us at our most charitable. And he sees us at our worst every time we tell him to get lost.
He sleeps in the open air, counting stars, covered by his military-surplus blanket. He prays for heaven to feed him every day. And somehow heaven does.
He is a man who people overlook because it’s easier that way. A man who asked me for nary a thing.
Mister Buck, sir. Today, you met a young redhead who happened to have a few extra dollars in his pocket. A guy who wishes he could do more for an American serviceman, but is too ignorant to know how sometimes.
So you were wrong, Buck. You didn’t see God on a street corner today.
Steve Winfield (Lifer) - May 1, 2021 8:19 am
I don’t care what their story is. Truth. Lie. Addiction. Whatever. I have it better. Job, wife, daughter, dogs, gerbil, home. $5 or $20. I try to get a smile. Let them know there’s still some good folks who care. Really care. And I do.
I don’t write a blog about helping people. I just help them in my small way. I don’t dwell on it. Just give them money & move on.
God bless you, Sean. God bless all those in need. In Christ’s name.
Leigh Amiot - May 1, 2021 8:38 am
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”—Hebrews 13:2 NIV
This is what came to mind as I read today’s column.
Suzanne Jones - May 1, 2021 2:41 pm
I had the same thought.
Lisa - May 1, 2021 9:15 am
MermaidGrammy - May 1, 2021 9:40 am
You both saw God. And have shown Him to us
Thank you and God bless you
Marilyn - May 1, 2021 12:15 pm
You said it right, MermaidGranny.”You both saw God” and reminded me that He is near as well.
Virginia Russell - May 1, 2021 10:47 am
You both saw God
Thomas Johnson - May 1, 2021 11:28 am
As a Vietnam Era Veteran, thank you for remembering the forgotten and bringing to light the homelessness.
Love your writing.
Te - May 1, 2021 11:57 am
Aww. now, you got me teary-eyed with this one, and before I’ve had my second cup of coffee. Thank you. Thank you for reminding me to be kind, to be thankful for all those who have and are still fighting for all our freedoms, and the freedom of other people. Like you, I’ve never really done without. You reminded me just how blessed is my life.
Joey - May 1, 2021 12:25 pm
We watched The Last Full Measure last night. And cried. Then your column this morning! Let’s never, ever forget the sacrifices our Vietnam vets made… all of our veterans deserve our respect and our thanks!
CherylW - May 1, 2021 12:35 pm
God has given wisdom to two beautiful hearts.
Pamela Williams - May 1, 2021 12:35 pm
David Aday - May 1, 2021 12:49 pm
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Hebrews 13: 2.
Jean - May 1, 2021 12:49 pm
You are a good man Sean with a heart of gold.
J - May 1, 2021 12:51 pm
Thank you. Awesome how God’s light shows if we only will Look.
Christine - May 1, 2021 12:56 pm
Thank you for reminding me to be thankful for all the beautiful moments in life. God bless our veterans 🙏and meet their needs through helping people.
Jan - May 1, 2021 1:11 pm
One of your very best, Sean! Of course you have a long list of very best! Thank you for your service, Buck. Take care and God bless!
Jan - May 1, 2021 1:14 pm
One of your very best, Sean. Of course, you have a long list of very best! Thank you for your service Mr. Buck. Take care and God bless!
Debbie g - May 1, 2021 1:38 pm
Mermaidgrammy. Said it perfect. Love to all of us
Terry Harbuck - May 1, 2021 1:45 pm
Dear Sean-This may not be what you think is appropriate but I just have to get it out! You/your columns/your books are my new religion. Thank you for softening the corners of an edgy world…and coaxing my cynical adult self back to my more giving, empathetic original Southern Baptist self.
Fred Hankinson - May 1, 2021 2:23 pm
Makes you more thankful for all we are and what we have.
Sue - May 1, 2021 2:24 pm
Beautiful. Both of you.
Christina - May 1, 2021 3:09 pm
It’s sobering and moving to see God in you both.
Bob E - May 1, 2021 3:12 pm
Seems we could count our blessings every day.
Seems we could share our blessings every day.
Seems we should be thankful every day.
Thanks for the constant reminders.
Jim - May 1, 2021 3:56 pm
I feel sure that the Veterans Administration that President Trump renovated would be able and willing to help Mr. Buck. Can you put them in touch with him?
DAVID A WILSON - May 1, 2021 4:07 pm
Great writing; can’t get enough; keep up the great writing if you can!!!
AlaRedClayGirl - May 1, 2021 5:17 pm
What a heartwarming story, especially meaningful today on the anniversary of my WWII veteran daddy’s death. Those of us who have never fought have no idea of the horrors they lived through, not just during the war but most likely for the rest of their lives. Thank you for showing Buck that someone cares and appreciates his service.
MAM - May 1, 2021 7:29 pm
This one definitely caused leaking eyes. I have a soft spot in my heart for veterans. And both you and Buck were right. Both of you saw God. God bless all of us! We need it!
Linda Moon - May 1, 2021 8:34 pm
She ain’t sweet, Sweetie. If the cashier was sweet, she would’ve made a fresh brew for Buck. I see in you what Buck sees. You fed one of “the least of these” who was hungry. So, I believe you and Buck BOTH met God on the corner. Deus Ex Machina, Sean.
Karen Holderman - May 1, 2021 9:00 pm
Sean, thank you for sharing. You both saw God in each other. You let the gentleman know you cared. I hope the cashier learns to seen God in any customer who comes to her store. A hot cup of coffee can be the best gift to someone who doesn’t get to savor it on a regular basis.
Sheri K - May 2, 2021 12:24 am
Just finished reading “Indivisible” about Chaplain Darren Turner who served in the Iraqi Freedom campaign. What an eye opener to the hell our veterans have faced! Thank you, Sean, for acknowledging Buck’s service. You did what more of us wish we had done. God bless you.
Morton Vice - May 2, 2021 11:52 am
Beautiful ! It’s a fine life baby…
johnallenberry - May 2, 2021 6:22 pm
I reckon maybe you both saw God. I hear tell He is omnipresent. His son once said: “When ye have done it to the least of these, ye have done it to me.” God bless you, Sean.
johnallenberry - May 2, 2021 6:26 pm
Matthew 25:38 ff When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ 40And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’…
Chasity Davis Ritter - May 2, 2021 10:09 pm
Driving to work today I heard the song by George Strait called “I Saw God Today”. Reminds us if we just look we can see HIM everywhere. Reading this blog I Saw a glimpse of HIM too today…..
Sonya aTutyle - May 3, 2021 11:47 pm