I was downtown this afternoon looking for the courthouse as I had jury duty. I was actually looking forward to the experience even though it upended my daily circus of picking kids up at three different schools. Fortunately, my father-in-law was able to step in so I could fulfill my civic duty.
I was waiting at the crosswalk as I was running uncharacteristically late–I had twelve minutes to get inside, through the metal detector, and downstairs to my appointed room. From nowhere I heard someone yell my name. I scanned the faces on the street and saw one I recognized–except the street made it more grizzled and it was buried under a matted beard. It was Graham, a man I met while working at the rescue mission.
When he was staying at the mission, he always hunted me down to talk. Sometimes I was really busy in the kitchen, but I always tried to spend a few minutes with him when he wanted to chat. This time I didn’t have time for him. I felt terrible leaving him but I was due in court.
I sat down with two minutes to spare with Graham heavy on my mind. I wondered if I could track him down afterward. I watched the clock wondering how many hours I would be delayed and the impossibility of tracking a man down in the streets.
A woman walks in and calls roll. Then, the judge walks in to tell us that all of his cases had been resolved this morning and that we are all released. That’s it. Any other day I would have felt cheated, but I was elated as I hurried out to find my friend.
I scanned the streets and Graham wasn’t there. I was determined to find him, so I started walking. I walked three or four blocks and just as I was about to give up, I spotted him across the street. I’m sure I looked foolish yelling and flailing my arms to capture his attention, but I was glad to see him.
He was thin. I asked him if he had eaten and he said no. I don’t know if he hasn’t eaten since breakfast or last Tuesday, but I invited him to eat lunch at Subway nearby.
He talked about everything. He talked about his old lady and that he is going to be a dad soon. He said that he has been watching people to see how they treat their kids as he wants to be the best father around. He told me about how a marine sneaked into his camp and stole his wallet. He told me about his gun and his knife as big as a broadsword he keeps at his camp for protection. I certainly don’t believe that there are covert operations at his camp, but I do believe that he has a pregnant “old lady.” I also believe him when he describes how he is invisible on the street. He hates the emptiness he feels when people look away.
That’s when I realized that one of the most important things I could have given him–far more important than cash or food was dignity. I don’t know what it feels like to be ignored by society. I’ve never been treated like a stray animal and I’ve never had anyone cross the street to avoid the discomfort of being near me. But he has.
I believe providence is what brought me downtown. I also learned how fleeting opportunities can be. Let’s not squander them and please pray for Graham.