Faces of Jesus: Lars
God’s not subtle.
I’ve just dropped my son off at youth group, and with two hours to kill I’m about to try grocery shopping at night. I’m hoping the store’s near to empty. No crowds. No lines. Quick and easy. But as I’m driving down the four lane street, the sun setting on my left, I see the shadow of a man sitting on the curb of a side street.
Gaetz Street. A homeless man, on Gaetz Street. Yeah, I get it.
I turn off at the next corner, circle the block and parallel park. I grab five bucks from the inside of my hat, roll it up in my right hand, climb out and observe from a distance. The man doesn’t move. He sits like a stone statue, layered in black and gray clothing. Alone. There is no one else around at all. The street seems like a poor choice. Yeah, there’s a sidewalk, but the businesses here are drive-up, not walk-up. And up-scale. An eco-friendly clothing store and a notary public? Why here?
A car turns onto the street and passes the man without a pause, the driver slurping through her green Starbucks straw on her way to the townhouses behind me.
The man hasn’t even looked up. He’s still staring at the sidewalk.
I approach slowly.
Maybe hiding in plain sight is the strategy here. Don’t move and you become a fixed object like a fire hydrant. Then at night you can duck into the shelter of the parking garage because no one has chased you away.
I check the angle of the sun on its course for the day.
Man, if you sit here all day, you picked a place that will not get any shade. None. Do you just not care?
Since his face is down and to the right, I walk to his right side and sit down on the curb. “Hi.”
His voice comes clear, with a gentle resonance as though he’d be a good singer. “Hi.” But he doesn’t look up. His hair is a mass of dreadlocks—not for style’s sake—and his hands are dried, cracked and swollen. He blinks a glance in my direction.
I look away, too. I’m not here to stare. “Nice night.”
A few seconds go by before he says, “Yeah.”
So I sit and wait, listening to the cars roll by on the main street, feeling the gentle breeze they make, watching the sky turn orange. “I like that shade of orange. My favorite color is blue, but that orange is making me think I need a second-favorite color. You have a favorite color?”
“… … Green.”
He’s not stoned, he’s not high, his voice is so crisp and even—I don’t think he’s challenged, I think he’s just not used to having somebody to talk to.
But I don’t push it. I enjoy about fifteen minutes with him in quiet. Two dudes, just sitting on the curb.
When I do get up, I say, “Well, my name’s Dave.”
“See you around, Lars.”
Back in my car, I see him notice the five dollars I left on the sidewalk. And I think, Let’s get him some food. So I drive to the grocery store and buy some oranges and bananas and any other plain, healthy food I can fit in a single plastic bag along with two rolls of toilet paper—because, hey, I’d want some toilet paper.
I drive back and approach Lars again. “Hey, Lars,” I start to hold out the bag.
“No, no,” he almost lifts his hands from his knees in protest.
“Come on, man. There’s some healthy stuff in there.” I place the bag on the ground.
He says, “No.”
“… Okay, then,” I back away, still leaving the bag on the ground. “Maybe you’ll bump into someone who can use it.”
I don’t linger in my car, but I do see Lars take the bag.
Still, that was the wrong way to do that with him. If you leave it, he can find it. If you hand it to him, there’s shame in that. He feels shame.
Sorry, Lars. …God, he hadn’t eaten all day. What is this town gonna do about the homeless? You’re clearly laying them at our gates. We’re the rich man. That bag of groceries? Scraps that fell from my wallet. We can do so much more! What are we going to do?