And I said, “Thank you…” with a Smile (Pt 3)

Today marks the final installment of this 3-part story. I hope you enjoyed Part One, and Part Two. Finally, we discover the purpose of our kind stranger, and the impact he leaves behind. Enjoy!

And I said, “Thank you…” with a Smile (Part 3)

I think that the mind can fast forward sometimes, when someone begins to tell you a story, as it tries to figure out the ending before it is presented.  I probably could have woven a hundred different versions of what this man’s life was all about – his purpose on this earth.  But there was something in the way that he spoke to me that kept my mind tightly focused on each and every word as his story unfolded.

Nearly two decades ago the man had been an Army Lt. in the Gulf War.  He claimed that his greatest accomplishment was not in winning any battles, but in safely bringing all of his soldiers home to their families.  Though the war had been short, his time overseas had taken its toll and he retired shortly after the conflict ended.  His life’s passion was to be in the service of others, keeping them out of harms way.

This man was a Guardian.

On September 11th, 2001 he assisted the rescue workers, fire fighters and police as they extricated people from the soot and rubble of the Twin Towers.  The man’s voice cracked as he described the horror and sadness of that day.  I could see the pain of loss in his face, though he did not personally know any who perished.  While so many of us were frozen in front of our televisions in the aftermath of those awful days, he was at the epicenter making whatever difference one man could.

This man was a Guardian.

For the past five years the man had been on the road.  He moved from town to town as if blown by the wind.  The only constant in his life seemed to be the people whose paths he crossed.  They all needed to safely find their way and miraculously this man walked into their lives the moment they needed assistance in one form or another.  He was the voice in the darkness for the young boy who had gotten lost in a maze of storm sewers.  His hand was the one the old woman held tight to while the firemen cleared the tornado strewn debris of a church in which they had been trapped.  His eyes were the first thing the drowning man had seen smiling over him after being rescued from a rip current.  His strength was appreciated by the victims of hurricane Katrina whose house he helped rebuild one board at a time.

This man was a Guardian.

I was no longer cold as I listened to his life.  The compassion and service this man offered to complete strangers warmed me to the core.  My heart, that had been so heavy just a short time before, was now lighter as I felt wrapped in a comforting sense of peace and renewed purpose.  There had been so many times in my life when God knew just what I needed to bring a smile to my face, put a spring back into my step, or in this case, restore hope in my life.  As if God were whispering to me through the story of this man’s life of service, my eyes were opened to the possibility that my layoff today cleared the way for something bigger in my life.

Now nine months later, as I reflect on the magic of that evening in the cold with the Guardian, I am so thankful that God placed him on my path.  Had it not been for that encounter, I could have so easily sought a job similar to the one I had lost and stayed on a road that lacked purpose.  Instead, I was challenged to be something more, contribute something greater and to serve others in the process.  I chose a direction that allowed me to shine a light in the lives of those around me so that I, too, could be a guardian and help people safely find their way.  I had never quite known what I would do with my life until that night when everything came into focus.

Mission Complete

When the man finished his story, I realized that the time had come for him to move on.  He had fulfilled his mission.  I understood then what he meant when he said it had nothing to do with the windshield.  It had everything to do with my heart and the seed of hope and change that was planted.  I sat quietly with my thoughts as I drove him to the bus station that night.  He never asked anything of me, but after the gift he had given by sharing his story I offered to buy his ticket.  In his quiet way, he accepted my gratitude.

“Do you think I will ever see you again?” I asked, already knowing the answer in my heart.

“My work is done here,” he answered, and I accepted the blessing of his friendship for that evening.

“I don’t know that I will ever be able to explain the impact you have had on my life tonight and the ripple of change that has begun,” I started.  “It has been an honor to meet you.”

The man smiled at me with those deep blue eyes and replied, “God is a Maestro when it comes to orchestrating our lives.  I am humbled to be His servant.”

He gathered his pack, standing there with me one last time. With my eyes dancing for the first time in years, I shook his hand and I said, “Thank you!” with a smile.

The End

How has your life been touched by a stranger, and how do you plan to pay-it-forward in your lifetime?


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