Green Adidas

This true story took place in late August, this summer.

I didn't head downtown thinking we'd find him.

We loaded up the car with the jogger and a scooter and found our way to Oak and Michigan. One quarter for seven minutes of parking. Ridiculous. But, what's four bucks for a little sanity check.

It wasn't hard to spot him. He really didn't fit in on Michigan Avenue. "The Mag Mile." While most were weighed down with Gucci, Bloomingdale and Tiffany bags, his was a tattered backpack. While most were well coiffed, he was, shall we say, a whole lot of messy.

Wandering on a week day downtown affords the luxury of less crowds, which means you can see at a distance. Maddie and I spotted him at the same time. His gait was slow. His head hung low and it seemed that it took every ounce of effort for him to shuffle along. It was the shuffle that caught our attention. Every step seemed painful. And then again at the same time we spotted his feet. Rather than shoes, he had cut-out cardboard with strings holding the cardboard where shoes would normally be.

It was hard not to stare, and because he wasn't looking our way, we actually could stare. Slyly of course. Both feet were gnarled, with toes oozing and bleeding and overlapping. {Remember how I wish I were a nurse but could never be a nurse because I can't do bodily fluids. You can imagine how I instantly wanted to vomit.}

We slowly passed and this is what transpired next.

Maddie {in complete sadness}: "Mom, we have to go buy him shoes. Did you see his feet? His sign says he needs shoes. Why doesn't he have shoes? We have to get him shoes. We just have to. We have the money. PLEASE MOM?"

Me {also in complete sadness}: "Well, honey, I don't know. That's so sweet of you to think of that. But I don't know what size his feet are. And I don't know where we'd even go to get shoes around here."

Maddie {irritated}: "Mom, we can ask him what size his feet are. There has to be a shoe store around here. There are LOTS of stores! They're everywhere."

Me {still sad}: "Maddie, it just isn't gonna work. If we did figure out what size his feet are, every store around here is SOOOOO expensive. We're in one of the most expensive shopping areas in the country."

Maddie {frustrated}: "Mom, if I needed shoes you'd buy me a pair. He needs shoes. Why can't we buy him a pair? God wants us to take care of people that need help - that's what the Bible says. We could help him. We have the money. Why wouldn't we help him?"

Me {reluctant but realizing that I need to walk my talk}: "Hmmmm. You're right, Maddie. God has given us more money than we need. We should share. We should take care of those that can't care for themselves. You're right. Long pause. Let's go buy him some shoes." {and inside I'm thinking to myself, "Oh crap. There is no Payless for miles on end. What is this little lesson gonna cost?"}

Maddie {ecstatic}: "Oh, thank you Mom. THANK YOU. You know he needs them. It's not that he just wants shoes, he needs them."

Me: "Let's walk slowly by him and I'll look down and get an idea for how big his feet are and then we'll walk across the street to Macy's."

And so I was shown what it means to have a compassionate heart by a nine-year-old. Again. 
She knew the right thing to do. 
She knew what our Bible teaches we should do for those that are less fortunate. She knew that the reality is that money wasn't really an issue for us. 
She pushed. 
For what was right. 
She advocated. 
For him.

We caught up with him, I figured out that his foot looked awfully close to the size of Jack's, and we crossed over Michigan Avenue, up the big fancy escalator to the mens' shoe department. We settled on these shoes.

Because of the extensive damage to his feet, I knew it had to be something that would be slip on and expandable. We paid and I could hardly keep up with Maddie as she raced through the store, anxious to get back to street level to find him. She was so nervous that he would be gone before we got back.

We didn't have to look far because, well, he couldn't walk quickly, so by the time we got to him he was outside the Water Tower.

Maddie turned shy and wanted me to give him the shoes but I felt like she needed to be the one to do that. They were a gift from her heart, and had she not been determined, we wouldn't be there in the first place. She put me to shame. We followed close behind him for a bit until she finally took a couple quick steps and came up right beside him and said, "Hi sir, we bought these for you. We saw your sign asking for shoes."

He stopped and took them in his hands and said, "Oh, that is so kind of you. But my feet need very special shoes because of how they are hurt." He handed back the shoes to Maddie and I instantly felt deeply saddened for her. She had tried SO hard to help. And here he was, not taking her help.

It's as if he sensed Maddie's disappointment because he followed that up with, "But thank you so much for trying. Most people would never even try. That means a lot to me that you would do that for me."

{I might add that during our interchange up until this point he had not really looked at us. But as he said his name he looked up.} I stuck out my hand and said, "Martin, it is really nice to meet you. This is my daughter Maddie, and my son Jackson, and my name is Alysa. I am so sorry the shoes my daughter bought didn't work out." Again, he graciously said it meant so much to him that we would even try to help him. He was visibly touched.

I asked how his feet were injured and he said in Afghanistan, in the war. I immediately stuck my hand out again and said, "Thank you for serving our country so that my children could enjoy freedom." And both my kids shook his hand and said thank you. {That's a big deal in our family. You go out of your way to thank a veteran for their services. Always.}

And without skipping a beat he said, "Oh, ma'am, I would go again tomorrow. I was very proud to serve my country."

I glance down and saw the price he paid.

We have taught our children that when we are with people that are less fortunate than us, we look them in the eye, we always treat them with dignity and respect, we listen, we ask good questions, we show care. Always. And the kids did just that.

We said our goodbyes to Martin and turned and walked away.

Quietly. Wishing the shoes would have worked.

Months later, Maddie still asks about Martin, wondering if we can go try to find him. Since she continues to be on his heart, I've decided that we will at least go looking for him, during one of the kids' random days off of school in the next couple of weeks.

And this time, if we find him, we'll ask if he'd like to go out for coffee or lunch. Or if he'd want to go to Breakthrough. We'll ask him to share more of his story, because everybody has a story to tell. And I believe that deep down everyone wants to be able to share their story with people who are interested enough to listen and engage.

I have been praying that we would find him again. That somehow, Maddie's persistence will show him that somebody noticed him. That somebody cared. That somebody tried.
That somebody being a nine-year-old girl, on a hot summer's day, in the middle of Chicago offering a sweet gift of a pair of green Adidas.

The lessons I learn from that girl.


Ann Marie said…
What a beautiful story. It made me cry. We all need to walk our talk and what a great example Maddie was that day......but remember she shares her parent's hearts. :)
becko said…
That is just wonderful, Alysa. You and your family are such incredible role models. I really need to try to be more like Maddie (and you)!
JeninIL said…

Came across your blog and I love it! I love your "realness"!

Thank you and Many Blessings to you!

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