My Panhandling Surprise

I've been really disappointed these past few months with how slowly the leg our puppy Murphy shredded this past summer has healed. That crazy dog ran into me like a SCUD missile, nailing just the right spot and it a split second - tearing my ACL. It's an injury that hurts like hell for about 20 seconds and then subsides, leaving you completely unable to do anything. The corrective surgery takes a surgeon a lousy 45 minutes to complete, but sidelines the recipient for a full year. That kind of math just doesn't add up.

So, I'm in month six. I'm not back to running. I can't go to my Saturday morning boot camp. I can't chase after the kids or play with them in the backyard. I went back to the surgeon depressed and dejected.

"Well, your quad isn't firing!" he announced loudly in his office. "Look at it! You haven't gotten any of the muscle back." And with that, he scribbled a prescription for me to go back to UPMC's Sports Medicine facility on the Southside for another round of physical therapy. Except this time, he said, he was giving me the Steelers' treatment. Awesome.

Blood Flow Restriction is an intriguing concept. Therapists wrap a blood pressure cuff around your upper thigh and squeeze the liver out of your leg while putting you through a series of exercises. When you finish one lightning round, they release the pressure, and all the blood flows back into the muscles you're working on. Two or three sets in, with weights and bands and dips and steps, your muscles start to shake like nobody's business. And then you get stronger. It's really quite remarkable. I drive to the Southside now twice a week with a new outlook. I'm getting better.

So I pulled off my exit on the Parkway East inbound the other morning and came to a stop sign at Bates Street, heading down towards the Hot Metal Bridge. There were two guys standing there, both holding cardboard signs. Two panhandlers, I thought? Don't they dislike sharing space with one another? I pulled up to the intersection and the one man closest to me whipped around, caught my eye, and flashed me a brilliant, white-toothed smile. I certainly didn't expect to see the words written on his sign.

"Smile, You Matter," it said. Not what I expected to see. 

I will tell you this, though. Those three words completely changed my day. They changed my attitude. My thought process. My ideas about where my morning was heading. And I wish I could tell that stranger how much I appreciated him standing there, with nothing tangible to gain, save for knowing he just might be making other people happy.

I asked Ryan to write that same message on a chalkboard so you could see what I saw. Who knows. Maybe you need a new perspective. A different view. A reason to smile. Perhaps all of us need to be reminded every now and again that it often takes so very little to make such a big impact on a stranger.


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