As I began the drive home which was going to include a quick stop at the grocery store, my mind was busy with the familiar routine of prioritizing the ever-growing list of household needs with the ever-shrinking bank account.
Frustrated, I was trying to plan how to best spend what I had remaining for the week. However, as I slowed to turn into the grocery store parking lot, there was a sight which put my frustration into a better perspective.
That day, like many of them recently, was chilly, damp and dreary. Those adjectives could also be used to describe the man standing on the opposite corner. He appeared beaten down, dirty and depressed. His head and long straggly beard hung low, while the sign he held said he was stranded and needed help.
I've lived in large cities where there are people asking for help on every corner of every intersection. There are simply too many to attempt to help, and there's also often the risk of a con or danger in that sort of interaction.
But, it's an unusual sight here in Princeton, and maybe that's why the sight of him struck a chord. Maybe it was seeing his furry little traveling companion curled up on his backpack which laid on the wet grass. Whatever it was, it pulled me out of my world and into his cold and desperate journey, a realization my struggles are much more desirable than those of many others.
I didn't know how to help, but I figured the guy was probably cold and hungry. I wandered the aisles for a few minutes before deciding to get him a bowl of hot soup from the deli. I didn't want him to have to share with his little friend, so I also went down the pet aisle to grab a few small packs of dog food. It wasn't much, but I figured it may help them hold on until they were able to continue their journey.
I left the store and pulled into the parking lot across the street. As he saw me approaching he walked toward me. His demeanor was true, and there was no doubt in my mind he needed help. I introduced myself and stuck my hand out. He seemed surprised, but quickly shook my hand and quietly introduced himself as Ted.
I didn't want to ask invasive questions but wanted to see if I could offer more help. He pointed to a car in the distance and said he'd ran out of money on the way home to Tennessee. His little dog watched alertly but never left the backpack.
I offered him the small grocery bag and told him what was inside. After thanking me and wishing me well, I did the same. As I got back into my safe, warm vehicle before heading back to my safe, warm home, I looked back at Ted. He was squatting down behind his sign which offered minimal protection from the chilled wind.
I couldn't see what was happening but knew he and his best friend were beginning to eat some much-needed food. I was going home to eat, and during the drive I wondered if he would still be standing on the corner the following day.
I never saw Ted and his little dog again. I like to think someone else stopped to help and he was able to make his way back home. Wherever you are, Ted, I hope both of you are someplace safe, warm and familiar.
While I hope I'm never in his situation, I think Ted helped me as much as I helped him. We all have day-to-day struggles, and some days are better than others. He helped remind me there will always be those with greater struggles in life, and even if unable to offer much, there are still plenty of opportunities for us to help each other when we can.
PCR Staff Writer Dave Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.