On A Cold Day, A Hopeful Encounter
On a recent December day, it was only 18 degrees outside and promising to become even colder. The thin layer of ice on every surface made both driving and walking treacherous. I had left my warm home to manage just a couple of pre-Christmas errands on this nasty winter day. I was heading north just a mile or two from home on the narrow two-lane road that straddles Kansas and Missouri, when I witnessed a man walking in the opposite direction.

Damn, I thought, it is so cold out there, where could he be headed? I hoped he was going to one of the two nearby country clubs, which would mean he was almost to his destination. Momentarily secure in this convenient presumption, I drove on by.

A Long Way to Go

After I had travelled a few blocks more, my conscience got the better of me and I turned back. The man just didn’t seemed sufficiently dressed to make it even a few blocks more to the country club, so I stopped in the middle of the road, rolled down the window and asked, “Where are you headed?”

“Still a long way,” he replied, “I am going to work at the DoubleTree Hotel.” I was incredulous. The DoubleTree was at least another seven or eight miles down the icy road! This man was not dressed for the elements and certainly not prepared for such a long walk. “Get in,” I said, hijacking my own trip to conduct errands.

In the warmth of my car I asked the man what he was thinking, attempting this long walk in the bitter cold. He replied simply, “I have to get to work. I promised I would do my shift catering a banquet at 4pm. The city bus goes right to where I work, but they ceased operations today, I guess due to the cold and icy roads.”

Faced with a complete lack of options for transportation, he had tried to leave home early enough to meet his commitment by walking the nearly 12 miles to his place of work. The bus line had altered his plans to get to work just as he altered mine to drop off laundry and conduct some trite shopping.

Heroic Commitment Despite the Odds

As we drove the next several miles, I learned that he was committed to his job because he was determined to support both his own son and his girlfriend’s three children. He admitted to having lived a detached, meaningless existence for years prior; an aimless young man on the street, embroiled deeply only in himself, admittedly without purpose. He said he had been “out of touch with life.”

During our conversation, it became clear that he had pulled himself up to find a new life HERE AND NOW. In my eyes he was living a present moment that was pure hope, pure love perhaps, as evidenced by his foolhardy commitment to walking 12 miles on the ice to work for a $9.20/hr wage. I met a new hero on that Saturday afternoon – a man who had been let down by the bus line meant to serve him, trudging forward regardless to reverse the mistakes of his past by living now, warmed only by a fiery commitment to do what he could to support his loved ones and further his dignity in this world. Senseless as it was to brave the bitterness, he did the only thing he knew to do when his bus stopped running – he walked.

A Gift of Hope for Moving Forward

After nearly 60 years here, I know my city. This man would never have made it to work that day on time if at all, and who knows when hypothermia may have struck. I helped him reach his destination and in turn I was afforded the gift of witnessing a commitment beyond the reasonable, beyond good sense. This man was simply doing what he felt he had to. Through his dedication, he showed me the meaning of awakening to the genuine self, the person he had consciously decided that he wanted to be. He was intentionally shrugging off his past to embrace a new life, come hell or high water. He had already walked four miles in the freezing cold and had eight more to go.

I talked with him about a software company I’ve been coaching and how employers like his are using their product to more successfully manage their “gig economy” workforce. He was intrigued to learn more. We exchanged contacts because he was excited to potentially provide real insight into the experience of hourly gig workers that could help me help the company I coach. I attempted to spread some hope to him as he provided a present-moment example of the hope I so long to see flourish in some around me.

During that short 20-minute drive the temperature fell even further, from 18 degrees to 15, but my disconnect from my fellow man softened. My senses heightened and tears welled up as I thought of people in my life, people I love deeply, who are so desperate to find within themselves the resolve this young man demonstrated that day. Like many of us, he was braving the worst and struggling to continue moving forward, recommitting to doing his best in life regardless of the inhospitable cold.