He is the essence of UNITE.
In this story, the "rich" and poor....strangers gather together on a street corner and share their life.
That's what UNITE is all about. Breaking down walls of race, culture, economic status and so much more.
Please take some time to read, for the sake of the cold, lost, homeless out there. Then, join me as we add our posts to UNITE below!
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11 Degrees today. He wasn't just a raggedy coat, bearded one. His name was Steve.
I grab a Venti and reach my arm out to where he is, until daughter jumps from the car undaunted by this stranger.
His orphaned, furry, "man's best friend", greets us as if they weren't homeless...and we weren't driving up in a shiny white vehicle.
I look him in his eyes, smile, hand over the coffee as if apologizing for my cushy life.
And somehow I feel sad. Useless. Impoverished more than he...
"Thank you", Steve looks up. Cold, but coherent. But then he blurts out,"My friend just died. He was 54."
My heart leaps out and wants to hug him for his loss. I see the pain in his eyes, while somehow blinded by his ragged army coat, uncut beard, or the sign that says,
"You don't know if today is your last."
I drop my eyes and notice, these words are out of place. Usually signs say, "Hungry", "Will work for food", or "Anything helps".
I let my thoughts wander, while his mouth stops, eyes looking down at the small token of my generosity. He takes a sip....
"Don't be sorry." He reads my thoughts."That's just the way it is out here."
I pause, praying silently for what to say. Then it hits me, "He just needs people". We all do, really. Even if we hide in our big houses, cold walls, our churches, or layered personas. People just need people, don't they?
He goes on. "I have two kids, they have similar names to mine. I raised them well. All was fine, until I lost my job when the economy crashed and my wife ran off and left me."
"I am sorry." I mouth clearly this time. And then it hits me. His transparency is a beautiful garment. Something I ache for....we all yearn for, really. An un-walled existence. An ability to stand unclothed, letting the weather, and reality sting us....until there is nowhere to go, but up.
We shake palms. The grime of his fingers lingers long upon my hand. He continues. Apologizing. "I am sorry for rambling....it's just.....out here, there is no one to talk to. It's just me and my dog. It gets lonely."
"No problem." I smile and stand frozen, as if he were a magnet to this "fox without holes" type of existence. And after all, who of us doesn't need a sounding board. A heart. An ear to help make us stronger. Reflecting all we are, so that we can see life clearer?
"I love my kids. They are good kids. Criminal justice....it's what my son is studying. I am only 52. But I was a good dad. I knew my wife would leave me. But, I am not a drinker and won't stay in those shelters. There are mean alcoholics and heroic addicts there. Heroine's bad where we are living. Did you know that?"
"Yes", I am well aware of the epidemic that slays children, captures well intended people.
"Why are they even on it", he dances with the emotions inside of himself. "It's what killed my friend, ya know?"
I take a deep breathe, bow my head lower and whisper. "I thought so."
"He was clean for six year, then I told him not to, but he had to do it again. That's what killed him...he just wouldn't listen."
Oh and how we all don't listen, at times. When God, or man, or strangers speak to us....and try to whisper where the narrow road is.
Why does that wide road seem to lure us, take us, captivate us so?
"My dad left when I was two. There were six kids. He never paid anything. He just got up and left. Saw him when I was fourteen. Told him, 'you are not my dad anymore. I want nothing to do with you.'"
And how do any of us get over loss? How do we fight our way through betrayal? Are some stronger than others? Do some blanket the truth with heroin? Are others just left wanderers, in person....or internally, where no one can see?
He apologizes again for rambling, saying he never has anyone to talk to. "My mom used to punch us kids in the face." He takes his hand, grips it, fingers clenched, and motions it towards his face. He looks away. His eyes traveling to another place in time, where clearly wasn't safe.
Could that be the place he is running...we are all running from, sometimes?
This one takes me back. I am a foster parent. Could this man have turned out different if he just had the chance.....my chance....your chance....the chance so many of us have taken straight for granted.
"Ya, I used to be an alcoholic. But my daughter was eight when she asked me, 'Daddy, please stop drinking'. Haven't touched a lick since."
Did he know we are not that opposite? Did he need me to do more than sympathize, listen, offer a coffee that cost less than the five I spend daily....carelessly?
I pray. Ask God. Then listen some more.
It's cold. I shiver under the heavy sweater I am wearing. I smile and keep listening, but struggle as the temperature drops and his heart gets poured out like a rain that just won't relent from this suffering.
Yes, that's what it is. A tsunami. A tsunami of the soul that has been needing a home for all that heart-ache. A place to feel "not so alone". Someone to come and listen. A hope to place all that hurt and abandonment in....somewhere he can leave it and not look back from.
"My wife is why I am out here." He looks low, lonely, repeating it again.
During this talk, Steve is honest, deep, hardier than most I seem to visit with. And He is funny. So funny. We laugh, full belly together, as people watch us "odd couple" who some might think don't belong in conversation together.
And through these moment....I am not religious. He is not homeless. We are just united, quick friend. He forgives my greediness; I ignore the foul language that slips unsuspectingly as lives connect through coffee and some words.
And isn't it better to have foul language and a good heart, that good language and a hardened spirit?
Yes, this man is gentle, sweet, a real life Kris Kringle. I want to hug him, but don't think I can stand the smell lingering through this sweater seeming thinner by the moment.
We talk on, for nearly an hour. He shares about his beard, his dog, and all the people that pass him by.
Oh how many times have I passed by this chance to hear, listen, be inside someone else's story, because I supposedly "had a life", or because I felt so "important", or because I was too busy to hear the plight of another.
Lord, forgive me.
Temperature keeps dropping, but then I think..."Where can he go from this freezing?"
He tells me of the forest near where we are talking. It's where he sleeps. He tells how he curls up to his dog and how without him, he couldn't live.
"Ya know, my friends girlfriend disappeared pretty suddenly. She left just one and a half weeks before he died from overdosing on heroine."
For the first time in this hour, fear creeps in his eyes. I am speechless. I don't know what to say but, "I am sorry" for what seems like the bazillionth time.
"No, don't be." He graciously calms me. "It's just the way it is out here. Filed a missing report, but she just was gone...like that. Wonder if someone killed her..?"
I gasp. His fear wants to pass from where he is. Then, he tells me where they lived. It's miles from my house.
Two deaths. A heroine addict, and this missing girlfriend....and I had no idea. I drive by my Starbucks by that same bridge. I see people panhandling, but only give when feel led. And yet, hope has been sucked out of these two friends....
And I had not even stopped, noticed, or cared before.
Who was I? How was I living for a hope that gives me so much more than a dirty coat, a raggedy dog, and a home that lies somewhere under the dark of the winter trees. While so many simply went without nothing.
And finally he looks down. Him and his old dog start departing. As quickly as he started speaking, an engine seems to stop, his lips shut, and he turns to go. Was it the deaths, his childhood, the fact that he literally gave his entire story to some strange lady with a little girl in a Calvin Poncho and light brown boots...?
I am not sure.
"God bless you" I say in the distance. I will come visit with you again. Then, I get into my new car and drive to my big house, with my land sprawling with woods and a lake we use, just to look at.
And the words from 1 John 3:17-18 follow me as I turn on my heater....trying to get warm as I drive over that bridge, past my Starbucks....
"But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."
(Linking with Jen)
UNITE LINK PARTY
Now it's time to UNITE! Would love for you to add a link back and/or the UNITE button on the right hand side of this post. Please don't link more than two posts.
Also, would you take some time to comment on the post (or 2 or 3) before yours?
Thanks so much for joining us! I am so blessed by your posts this past week on advent, brokenness, baby Jesus and so much more!
Remember, UNITE is a no-rules, all inclusive link-up!
Remember, UNITE is a no-rules, all inclusive link-up!