A True Holiday Story by Hallie Lerman

It is a cold, cloudy, overcast day, one of these rainy days where the rain runs intermittingly, where the windshield wipers have to be kept continually on. The rain is hard and then slows into a drizzle. Now, for the moment, the rain stopped.

It has been a rough ten days of hard rains in Los Angeles. They say that it has been the rainiest December on recorded history. Downpours upon downpours. Then hours of light rain, where I have been able to race out, and do a few errands. I examine the skies to see if I can continue on, this week before Christmas, and decide that I can. At this precise moment, the skies are cloudy, but it is clear, only windy. I have a thick sweater on with a wool scarf and boots. This is my last errand. I need to take in a pair of shoes to be fixed and cleaned. Parking on the main street in front of the mamma/pappa store is impossible. There are never any places to park. Instead, I use the alley in back. It is a long alley. The small stores that face the street also have entrances from this alley.

The alley is badly pocked marked so I have to drive slowly and carefully to protect my tires.

On my right I see a beggar. He is a tall black man pushing a grocery cart, filled with black tarp that I figure he has been using to help protect him from the rain when he sleeps outside at night. I cannot imagine how brutal this must be in this weather. There are plastic bags attached to the cart filled to capacity. As I pass him, I give him a glance. He is not mean looking. He does not possess vacant eyes. He is shuffling slowly. When I pass him, our eyes meet. He looks worn, beaten, exhausted. He is not young.

Great. I think to myself. He is going to accost me when I come out of the store, begging me for money. I feel resentful and irritated, knowing that I will have to brush him aside and annoyed that I will feel guilty by not giving him anything. I do not like to open my wallet in front of beggars. I will be alone when he corners me in the alley. This is not a safe place to be.

I decide to take the shoes in and wait as long as I can. I make conversation with the owner and his wife, who is managing the store. We talk about our Holiday plans and wish each other good cheer in the New Year. I am stalling, but I am stalling for a purpose and I know it.

When I cautiously leave the store and look out, I breathe a sigh of relief. The beggar is far down the alley. He had no intention after all of doing what I imagined he would do. I am actually surprised, but also relieved. I get into my car.

I slowly pull out into the ally and drive toward the same direction as the beggar. I know I will have to pass him but I am not worried. He is almost at the end of the alley. I am in my locked car. Suddenly, as I approach him, he starts frantically pointing with his arm and finger over his head, to his left. He is crazy, I think to myself, mentally ill, as he starts acting like a crazy man, frantically repeating this motion over and over again. Without awareness, I automatically turn my head.

And, there I see. A car, backing out from another store, is barreling down at 30 or 40 miles a second, and not looking where he is going. Without thought, I put on the gas and like a missile my Mercedes does what only it can do. It flies through the air. This car literally misses me by 3 inches. I stop to the side and am start shaking like a child who has just been beaten. The car races past without stopping or even understanding what has just happened. Had he hit me, on my side, the car would have smashed into the concrete wall on my right, which separated the alley from the houses on the other side. Both my car and I would have died by the force of this impact from both sides.

This beggar, that I had so harshly judged, had just saved my life. I sit, for what seemed eternity, until the shaking stops.

I look in the mirror. The beggar has stopped too. I quickly opened my purse, pull out my wallet, and back up the car until I am side to side with the beggar. I roll down my window all the way. I am no longer afraid.

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you just did. I hand him all the money in my wallet. I only wish that I had more.

He looks at the money. God Bless You! God Bless You! He puts his hands in prayer and closes his eyes. I realize that he had not eaten in days. He looks as if he is on his last footing, exhausted and beaten to the bone. At least, this money will allow him to get some meals.

God Bless YOU. I say back to him. And, only a good year. I pause. We look at each other. We say good by and I drive away.

The Angel, Elijah, descends from Heaven, dressed as a beggar, to bring consciousness to people and to save their lives. This beggar had just saved my life. How quickly we judge. And, how quickly we can be saved, in spite of ourselves.

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