Last Saturday when I exited I-65 N at Prattville, AL, I saw a young guy standing on the median holding a homemade, but nicely lettered, sign that read “Laid off and new dad.” It was a new twist on the “will work for food” placards, and as I sat at the light, a number of thoughts went through my mind.

The first was that this was some sort of scam. But then, I wondered, who would be standing out in the sweltering heat next to asphalt if he were not truly desperate? And besides, the guy looked like he hadn’t eaten a decent meal or gotten a good night’s sleep in a week. His clothes were dirty, his features gaunt. This had to be for real.

But then I asked myself what he expected me to do for him. I suppose he thought that someone with a business that was hiring (good luck in this economy!) might pass by and stop and maybe he could get a new job. Again, a sign of desperation, since the chances of that happening were slim.

Finally, I felt guilty and thankful at the same time. I knew that as soon as I got off the ramp onto Highway 82, I was going to go use my Visa card, which no doubt that young man could not qualify for, to fill up my SUV. Then I was going to go use the same card to buy a nice lunch. I complain sometimes about not having enough, but that young man and his family had so little he was reduced to begging by the side of the road in the hope some stranger would be kind.

Seeing that young man, I was reminded of the scene at the end of Bruce Almighty where a dirty and emaciated homeless guy is holding up a homemade sign. The camera morphs his features to reveal that he in fact God. “In as much as you have done it to the least of these,” Jesus said, “you have done it to me.”

I won’t soon forget that desperate dad at the off ramp.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham