The Tattooed Stranger
He was kind of scary.
He sat there on the grass with his cardboard sign, his dog (actually
his dog was adorable) and tattoos running up and down both arms and even on
his neck. His sign proclaimed him to be "stuck and hungry" and to please
I'm a sucker for anyone needing help. My husband both hates and loves
this quality in me.
I pulled the van over and in my rear-view mirror, contemplated this
man, tattoos and all. He was youngish, maybe forty. He wore one of those
bandannas tied over his head, biker/pirate style. Anyone could see he was
dirty and had a scraggly beard. But if you looked closer, you could see
that he had neatly tucked in the black T-shirt, and his things were in a
small, tidy bundle. Nobody was stopping for him. I could see the other
drivers take one look and immediately focus on something else - anything
It was so hot out. I could see in the man's very blue eyes how
dejected and tired and worn-out he felt. The sweat was trickling down his
face. As I sat with the air-conditioning blowing, the scripture suddenly
popped into my head. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these,
my brethren, so ye have done it unto me."
I reached down into my purse and extracted a ten dollar bill. My
twelve-year old son, Nick knew right away what I was doing. "Can I take it
to him, Mom?"
"Be careful, honey." I warned and handed him the money. I watched in
the mirror as he rushed over to the man, and with a shy smile, handed it to
him. I saw the man, startled, stand and take the money, putting it into
his back pocket. "Good," I thought to myself, "now he will at least have a
hot meal tonight." I felt satisfied, proud of myself. I had made a
sacrifice and now I could go on with my errands.
When Nick got back into the car, he looked at me with sad, pleading
eyes. "Mom, his dog looks so hot and the man is really nice." I knew I
had to do more.
"Go back and tell him to stay there, that we will be back in fifteen
minutes," I told Nick. He bounded out of the car and ran to tell the
We then ran to the nearest store and bought our gifts carefully. "It
can't be too heavy," I explained to the children. "He has to be able to
carry it around with him." We finally settled on our purchases. A bag of
"Ol' Roy" (I hoped it was good - it looked good enough for me to eat! How
do they make dog food look that way?); a flavored chew-toy shaped like a
bone; a water dish, bacon flavored snacks (for the dog); two bottles of
water (one for the dog, one for Mr. Tattoos); and some people snacks for
We rushed back to the spot where we had left him, and there he was,
still waiting. And still nobody else was stopping for him. With hands
shaking, I grabbed our bags and climbed out of the car, all four of my
children following me, each carrying gifts. As we walked up to him, I had
a fleeting moment of fear, hoping he wasn't a serial killer.
I looked into his eyes and saw something that startled me and made me
ashamed of my judgment. I saw tears. He was fighting like a little boy to
hold back his tears. How long had it been since someone showed this man
kindness? I told him I hoped it wasn't too heavy for him to carry and
showed him what we had brought. He stood there, like a child at Christmas,
and I felt like my small contributions were so inadequate. When I took out
the water dish, he snatched it out of my hands as if it were solid gold and
told me he had had no way to give his dog water. He gingerly set it down,
filled it with the bottled water we brought, and stood up to look directly
into my eyes. His were so blue, so intense and my own filled with tears as
he said "Ma'am, I don't know what to say." He then put both hands on his
bandanna- clad head and just started to cry. This man, this "scary" man,
was so gentle, so sweet, so humble.
I smiled through my tears and said "Don't say anything." Then I
noticed the tattoo on his neck. It said "Mama tried."
As we all piled into the van and drove away, he was on his knees, arms
around his dog, kissing his nose and smiling. I waved cheerfully and then
fully broke down in tears.
I have so much. My worries seem so trivial and petty now. I have a
home, a loving husband, four beautiful children. I have a bed. I wondered
where he would sleep tonight.
My step-daughter, Brandie turned to me and said in the sweetest
little- girl voice, "I feel so good."
Although it seemed as if we had helped him, the man with the tattoos
gave us a gift that I will never forget. He taught that no matter what the
outside looks like, inside each of us is a human being deserving of
kindness, of compassion, of acceptance. He opened my heart.
Tonight and every night I will pray for the gentle man with the
tattoos and his dog. And I will hope that God will send more people like
him into my life to remind me what's really important.