Standing next to the front door of the gas station down the street from our house is a homeless guy named Bill. Bill has a squeegee in his hand and a raggedy white/grey beard. For the past three years, every time I pull up to the gas pump, he lumbers over to my car and says very politely "Good morning ma'am. Can I wash your windows to get a little something to eat?".
When we first moved back into the city after five years in the Happiest Valley in the world (Penn State) I remembered that there are poor people who sit on curbs and next to expressway exits with signs asking for money. We got used to the regulars in our neighborhoods in Denver, New Orleans, and Washington DC but there aren't many panhandlers in State College. In the city, I always made Grant uncomfortable by never just handing over money, but always shaking their hand and asking their name. I heard a sermon once about erring on the side of trusting those who supported themselves on the compassion of others, and thinking I never wanted to be wrong and let a fellow man go hungry while I had dollars in my pocket.
And let's say they actually took my money and spent it on a handle of booze... what a small comfort in a life lived outside and on the mercy of others.
But Bill. I remember one time being in a hurry and telling him that I would just buy him something to eat instead of waiting two minutes while he washed my windows. I will never forget the look of offense on his face and his polite refusal to take money without doing work. He didn't want a handout, he wanted a wage. Washing windows was his livelihood, and he is good at it. We wipes off drips and moves windshield wipers and takes great pride in surveying my car when he is done, head nodding at a job well done.
As we were driving away the last time Bill worked on our car, Pursy asked why Mr Bill (which is what we call him) washed our windows. I explained to her that Mr Bill didn't have a house to live in and he worked washing windows to buy food. She said "when I get bigger, I want to wash windows just like Mr Bill". Which gave me a beautiful segue into talking about working hard and being the best ____ you can be. If you want to wash windows, be the best window washer, just like Mr Bill.
A homeless squeegee wielding man named Bill helped me teach my children a valuable lesson about taking pride in your work, faithful presence and taking care of others. But every time we pull up to the gas station and I see his beard walking towards us and he introduces himself like he has never seen me before, I think that it isn't my dollars taking care of him. His kind words and his quality work are caring for us. I see it clearly through my spotless window.