Yesterday, yep. I see miracles.
I was scheduled to speak to a group at Holy Trinity at noon, so about 5 am, the first batch of chicken in the oven, I planned basically what I was going to cover. I don’t know why. I never use the darned notes.
On my way to serve breakfast, watching the windshield wipers, I popped in the soundtrack to “Les Miserables.” I just happened to listen to the piece where the priest lies to save Valjean from going back to prison. Valjean’s response is beautiful: “How could I allow that man to touch my heart and teach me love? He treated me like any other. He gave me his trust; he called me brother.” As I rounded the corner of Market Street and Davie, sliding on my chicken hat, I prayed my usual prayer, “God, today let me BE Love. Please. Let me BE Love.”
Even though it was raining, which means it’s kind of crowded – we have to serve in the corner of the parking garage so we’re not all drenched – things came off pretty much without a hitch. My friend Veronica had the adorable, petite, two-year old girl that she babysits with her in the breakfast line (Veronica lives inside, but deals with poverty). After I hugged the little girl, Ms. Betty said, “That’s Jesus hisself, standin’ right there.” I think she’s right.
On a whim, I talked with two of my friends, Ernest and Don, and told them, “Hey! I’m speaking over at Holy Trinity today at noon. Any chance y’all want to go? I’m supposed to talk about homelessness and what’s really going on out here. And tell people what they can do to help. If y’all come, they can hear it from the horse’s mouth, instead of secondhand from me. It’s at noon, so if you miss lunch, we’ll go out afterwards and I’ll buy!” I was surprised at their courage, but both of them said, “Yeah, I’ll come. Are you gonna pick us up?” So we got it all arranged.
Right after that, as breakfast was winding down, I noticed a guy I hadn’t seen before. I walked over and introduced myself. His name is Chris and he looks a little like my Dad, reddish hair and blue eyes, medium build, about 35 years old. I asked if he had picked up a copy of the new edition of “The Little Green Book.” Chris spoke softly, “No, I don’t want to waste one. I’m not planning to be here that long.”
I said, “Yeah? Where are you from? What’s going on? Are you outside?”
“I gotta get home to Richmond. I was doing something with a friend, and the company I was working for found out I had driven their rental car down here, so they stopped it. I’m stranded, and yeah, I’m outside. Somebody said there’s a temporary agency that’s hiring and I’m headed over there after this. I gotta get home and take care of my kids. As soon as I make enough for bus fare, I’ll be out of here.”
I said, “You have kids? How old are they?”
Chris said, “They’re 11 and 14.”
I said, “How much is bus fare?”
Chris said, “Seventy dollars.” I could hear in his voice that to Chris, that was a lot of money.
I said, “Wait right here, okay? Don’t go anywhere.”
I have to admit I’m a little jaded, or maybe just seasoned from working with folks with substance abuse issues for so long. One of them told me a few years back that they never ask me for money “because we know you’re not a sucker.” That’s true; I’m not. What I did next is not my usual modus operandi, but somehow I knew in my heart that Chris was telling the truth.
I walked over to my friend David Hanner, who serves with me on Mondays, saying, “Hey, David! I have to go pick up Neng to take him grocery shopping after breakfast, so I can’t do this. There’s a guy over there who needs just one thing, to get home to Richmond. He has kids to take care of there, 11 and 14. Bus fare is seventy dollars. Somebody sent $200 in donations in the last two months, so I can give the money back to you. Can you take him to the bus station? Do you have time after breakfast?”
David responded, “Yes, I can do it. I can leave right now; I’m almost finished up here.”
I said, “Okay, I’ll tell him.”
I walked over to where Chris was waiting and said, “Chris, my friend David is going to take you to the bus station and pay your fare back to Richmond, so you can get home and take care of your kids.”
Chris looked at me, almost speechless, and his eyes filled with tears. He murmured, “Thank you. I don’t know what to say. I can’t believe it.”
I said, “You don’t have to say anything, Chris. Just remember that today, somebody loved you. And your job is to go home and do the same for somebody else.” Chris just stared at me, eyes brimming.
I introduced David and Chris, and a couple of hours later on my way home, I called David. David said, “I don’t need the money back. I’m glad to help. And you won’t believe this. The bus left 20 minutes after we got there. Otherwise, he would have had to wait until 7 pm tonight. He was so happy. Chris kept thanking me, and I just told him to go home and do the same for somebody else. ”
Is there an echo in here? That’s the story of Valjean. “How can I allow that man to touch my heart and teach me love?” Today somebody loved Chris.
Right after that, I hit the trail to walk the dogs and unwind, thinking about Chris and his kids. Somehow I knew this one gesture would make all the difference for him. I have no way of knowing if he’ll get all straightened out or not, but I’d be willing to bet he will.
At 11:15, I headed over to pick up Ernest and Don, and off we went to Holy Trinity. As we walked up, Don marveled at the intricate stonework of the big, fancy church. We were a few minutes early, and we had a wonderful time with the amazing coffee machine in the meeting room. Ernest couldn’t get over the fact that the thing actually disposed of the little bag that you insert. We had so much fun.
When it came time for us to talk, I introduced them, proudly showing off the beautiful handmade jewelry box Ernest crafted for me while living in his van. I “interviewed” Ernest and Don, so they wouldn’t have to look at the audience and would feel more comfortable. They did a marvelous job, speaking from their hearts and telling the truth. Ernest’s optimism showed through when I asked if he had ever been on the wrong side of the law. He said, “Well, yeah. I did twelve years in prison. And my son’s in for fifteen. He’s just got one more to go though, so he’s doing good!” I asked, “Ernest, what would have kept you from ever going to prison?” Ernest responded, “Well, I can’t read and write, and that’s got a lot to do with it! And other stuff too.” They spoke of hope and how resourceful you have to be to make it outside. Don told them he had to turn in early the day before, because we were expecting so much rain. He needed to be under his bridge, nice and dry before the rain started, which is okay, because he reads a lot. He told them he enjoys novels, and mysteries. He bragged that his mattress is a Posturepedic. They told of complex family problems, substance abuse issues, medical issues – Don was hit by a car, walks with a cane, and has grand mal seizures. He gets $735 per month, and says he can pay $200 – 300 a month for an apartment, but of course we don’t have any in Greensboro for that kind of money. He has survived outside like this for eight years.
After a while, Don turned to face the audience, wanting to tell his story. We only had 45 minutes, and I kept having to guide the conversation forward. Otherwise, we’d still be there. People outside always want someone to listen, if folks will just take the time.
I figure I might be one of the luckiest people in the world. Who gets to do this? Who gets to see the look on someone’s face when someone loves him? Who gets to have fun with Ernest and the coffee machine? Who gets to hug a little two year old, pure love, in the breakfast line?
I was tired last night, but so blessed to have lived another day of miracles. Deep gratitude for these opportunities. God, thank You. Let me BE Love.