He obliged, and grudgingly, I dialed him back.
He introduced himself as a minister at a local church, and told me that he was calling because I had sent someone in to see him; he mentioned a name that I didn't know and I cut him off mid-sentence, "You must have mistaken me for someone else."
"No, ma'am, I have your business card. He said that you gave it to him."
And on a dime, my heart stopped.
I remembered him.
He had been standing near the entrance to a local grocery store and mall, holding a sign:
"Will work for food.
I have two kids."
I have two kids."
I passed him on my way out of the store, my radio playing the song, "Coming Home", my sunroof open, the sun shining brightly for the first time in a long time. When I read the sign, I turned my car around, went back into the store, purchased a gift card, and took it to him.
His eyes watered as I placed it in his hand. "Hey, miss, I'll work for you. I'll do your lawn or help out with stuff."
I smiled back at him and told him to just pay it forward instead. He didn't understand what I meant--I explained to him that instead of him helping me, I wanted him to help someone else in need and suggested that he go to a local church and ask for people that might need assistance.
Then I asked him why he wasn't working--he told me he'd been laid off, and that he couldn't find work. I asked him about unemployment benefits and applying for assistance, and then he told me that, "He couldn't read real good and didn't understand the papers."
I hesitated, for longer than I should have, before I asked him to come with me to my car. I gave him my card, and wrote a note on it for him to take to the unemployment office, requesting that they give him an accommodation or call me.
Truth is, I didn't want him to have my name, or my number. I'm better at compassion than at closeness.
When I left, I wasn't sure what he'd do, for all I knew, it was just a story that he told, but I didn't give it much more thought other than choosing to believe what he'd written on that sign.
Turns out, he did go to a church.
Turns out, he did ask if he could help someone. He's going there this weekend, with his family, to clean up a large yard of a house-bound elderly woman who can't bear to sell the home that she's lived in her entire life.
Turns out, he was laid off, and did go to the unemployment office, where they did process his forms, and assisted him with finding the right person to help him apply for other aid.
And, turns out, that for as uneducated as he believes that he is, he read me.
"Also," the minister continued, "He wanted you to know that he gave me your card, that he didn't keep it. He could tell that you didn't want to give it to him, but that you did anyway."
Shame crept up my neck, into my face, and I could barely speak.
"I'm sorry, it's just that-", this time, the minister cut me off. "You did a good, good thing. That's what matters."
I thanked him and hung up the phone, looking out my window at the birds and the blue sky.
I remembered after I'd given him that gift card and driven away, I had thought to myself, "I'm going to change the world."
But it turns out, the world changed me.