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Ahead of me, cars and trucks inched up the exit ramp curving to the left, onto North Kingshighway Boulevard, site of the sprawling Barnes-Jewish Hospital and clinics. The afternoon sun wilted long grasses along the pavement; the air, sticky with humidity. City pigeons scrounged for seeds.

And yes, there was someone near the stoplight: short, stocky, walking with a limp. A slouch hat covered his head; a graying beard, his square jaw. Safety pins fastened his wrinkled khaki shirt. Around his neck hung three white plastic rosaries of varying lengths and a cardboard sign scrawled with words in black letters. Behind him, stood a battered shopping cart, filled with bags and opened boxes, their contents spilling over its side.

Missing was the City’s ordinance against panhandling, usually posted near the stoplight.

Upon seeing me wave, he hurried to my car, his dark eyes glinting in the sun, his wide mouth grinning, revealing missing teeth. He reminded me of a fun-loving grandpa, full of stories; of an old laborer with a broken body.

“God blesses you!” he repeated over and over, welcoming me into his home. No longer invisible, someone had seen him and he knew it. I was humbled.

Long ago, a friend had taught me that nothing is as it seems.

 

 

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