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CARLTON FLETCHER: On the road with Jesus of Hazlehurst

OPINION: Kindness of strangers in short supply

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I tell you that whenever you refused to do it for the least important of these people, you refused to do it for me.

Matthew 25:45

A kind stranger stopped on one of Georgia’s backroad two-lane blacktops and picked up Joe and his obviously pregnant wife. The couple were weary from an unsuccessful day of hitchhiking that had seen them cover only 12 miles on foot from the little one-stoplight Southeast Georgia town that they’d lived in for the last several months before wearing out their welcome.

The stranger got little information from the bedraggled couple as they settled beside him in his old pickup, grateful to be off their feet. He asked their destination, and they turned the question back on him.

“I’m about to get onto Highway 82, heading for Columbus,” the stranger said. “I’m planning to stop off in Albany and get me a bite to eat.”

Joe told the man he and his wife would be obliged to get a ride into Albany, and they all settled in for the trip. The woman fell asleep almost instantly, her head settling against her husband’s shoulder. Joe and the driver exchanged a bit of small talk before the truck grew quiet, and each left the other to his own thoughts.

Joe’s head had fallen gradually against the passenger-side window, and he was just about to settle into a deep sleep when the driver said, “I’m stopping here, folks. I’d like to invite you to have some food with me, but I don’t have enough extra money to feed y’all tonight.”

Joe thanked the kind stranger for the ride and said he and his wife would be fine from that point. They both looked around, trying to get their bearings as the stranger drove off, out of their lives forever.

The couple went into an all-night diner on the ouskirts of town, but after separate trips to the restroom, they were invited to leave when they admitted they had no money for food. The few customers in the restaurant eyed them briefly, then went back to their eating. A young couple leaned in to whisper across their table, glancing at Joe and his wife as they did so. As they exited the restaurant, Joe heard the couple laughing.

Following a sign that indicated downtown Albany was a couple of miles ahead, Joe and his wife trudged on, tired, hungry and more than a little scared. Though she didn’t say so, the young bride wondered for about the 10,000th time how their lives had taken such a turn.

After spending the night on a park bench by the river, the couple awoke with the sunrise, noises from the city interrupting their respite.

Joe and his wife walked around Albany’s downtown for most of the morning, desperately looking for temporary shelter or food. They came upon several churches, but found all access doors locked. They were run out of any number of businesses and government offices before being threatened with arrest by a police officer who was responding to several called-in complaints. When Joe tried to explain his and his bride’s situation, the officer cut him off.

“Find yourself somewhere to stay or we’ll put you up in a jail cell,” the officer told the frightened couple.

Joe and his bride did their best to “hide” along the unfamiliar city streets, darting behind trees or bushes when they saw a police car or spied another pedestrian. They finally found some food scraps in a Dumpster behind a restaurant. With renewed energy, they worked up the courage to ask a few passers-by for spare change.

They had no luck.

“Just like all the others, looking for another handout,” one man said as he glared at Joe and his wife. Another said, “Why don’t you bums get a job? We’ve got enough like you around here.”

By late afternoon, Joe and his wife had no more energy for walking. They settled on a bench in front of a downtown business, too weary to move. Within 10 minutes a police car pulled up to the bench where they sat, and as fate would have it, the officer was the same one they’d encountered earlier.

Without a word, he put handcuffs on the couple and placed them in the backseat of his car.

As they were carried off, much to the delight of nearby business owners who’d called police, Joe turned to his wife and said, “You know, this place reminds me a lot of Bethlehem.”

“I was leaning more toward Calvary,” the wife said.

And they rode quietly to their fate.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.