It was one of those “Black and white” days of winter.  Where the world is painted in shades of dirt.  The slush on the road was the exact color and consistency of dryer lint.  Or maybe, it was the stress of buying gifts for everyone we know, that made it seem that way.  The holidays can be like that.

Especially when you’re in a time and money crunch and are in a trying to get it all done now, mode. Which, we were.

As we drove, there were more reminders of how bad things are economically, than holiday decorations on every corner. I’m pretty sure there were literal “signs of the times” because I saw them. They read: “We buy houses” and “Call NOW, to avoid foreclosure!”

No more silver bells on every street corner, only store closing signs.  Just when the signs had started to melt together like a marketing slush pile, one jumped out at us.

Or maybe it wasn’t the sign, it was the huge, slush dripping, black man holding the sign that caught out attention. With one strong arm he held the sign, and with the other he waved. He had a smile warm enough to melt an iceberg. (I may have suspected he was high-for just a minute.  Just being honest!) I looked a little closer- iPhone in hand in case I needed to report a drunken signer…But he wasn’t smiling vacantly, he made eye contact with each passing car. He was smiling genuinely. (Who knew people still do that?)

I couldn’t help but smile back. Neither could every other driver on that road. It was more contagious than swine flu.

My husband noticed too. “See that guy?” My hubby said.  “He must be freezing!”

” Yeah, I can’t help but smile! We should get him a coffee or something…” I replied. “Well, maybe when we’re done.” I suggested, looking at the clock and wishing it would sloooow down.

By the time we’d turned the next corner and found a parking lace at the mall, I’d forgotten all about he smiling man and the hot coffee.

We finished our errands, then drove to the nearest Starbucks for a treat to celebrate sticking to our budget.  As I held the white chocolate mocha and let it warm my fingers, I remembered that warm smile.

I thought I was losing it when I looked up to see the “STORE CLOSING SALE” sign walking towards the coffee shop. I wondered if I were about to be visited by a ghost of Christmas past…..then I worried whether Starbucks was the next store to close.. (that would be tragic.) Funny how one worry leads to another, isn’t it?

No worries, no paranormal episode being filmed and Starbucks wasn’t in fiscal trouble.  It was time for the smiling sign holder’s coffee break.

“He’s STILL SMILING! I said to my husband. “Hey, …Buy him a coffee, he’s gotta be freezing!!” I told hubby- but he was already reaching for his wallet. We were on the same page. (The first time that day- let’s just say Christmas shopping together can be brutal.)

Hubby walked to the counter with him and offered to buy him a coffee.

I strained to listen while they talked.  (And not look like a SBUX eaves dropper while doing it..)

“You seem to like what you’re doing..” Hubby said.

“I like having a job” Said our sign holding friend.

“Been doing this long?” Hubby asked, curious.

“A few months. I worked for a moving company before the economy tanked.” He said,  warming his frigid hands around the iconic paper cup.

The talk lasted just a bit longer than the coffee. By the end? My husband was  sure it had been a “divine appointment.”  The kind you don’t have programmed into your blackberry.

When the man excused himself to the restroom, my husband returned, looking perplexed.

“His birthday is coming up.. he has twin girls…times are rough but he’s glad to be working… I feel like I should give him something, do something to help.. but I don’t want to you know.. make him feel bad..he’s working, not begging.. you know what I mean?” Hubby said.

“Just be honest with him.. tell him you want to do it to thank him for what he’s doing…making people smile….  If that doesn’t work, tell him to use it to buy something for his girls…for Christmas.” I offered, thinking a little cash to buy gifts for the kids would be rough for anyone to turn down!

Hubby reached for his wallet. I watched him walk over as our new friend was picking up his sign getting ready to head back out into the cold.  I couldn’t make out words as they talked, but my ears strained to hear, anyways. They seemed more serious and intense this time.  I prayed silently: “Lord, please don’t let this offend this guy, let it bless him.”

My heart skipped a beat when I saw those two big men embrace, each with tears in their eyes.

He’d accepted the gift without offense.

We didn’t solve the economic crisis, or get him a more stable job. We just did what we could. So did he. He gave warm smiles and waves to drivers facing their own economic crisis’ as they drove to Christmas shop,  we gave a Venti’ and a few bills to a guy struggling to make ends meet.

In our own ways, we all made a difference that day, to each other.  And, just maybe to the world.

What will you do to make a difference, today?