We Would Help–and WE’RE “Church People”
That’s what I should have said on Saturday.
But let’s back up.
I’m sitting on the sidewalk with Lars. We’re under an awning in the rain. Like usual, his head hangs toward his knees. I’ve offered him some granola bars again, and even apologized, “You know, I never even asked if you like these, or if you’re allergic to nuts or anything.”
“No. They’re fine. Thanks.”
After about fifteen minutes, I notice that a woman on her apartment balcony across the street is waving at us. I wave back. She gives me a thumbs up and mouths the words “Way to go! Good job!” at me.
But I’ve been humbled by the Saturday before. I may know a lot about this guy, but I’m not helping him like I want to. And I think, All I’m doing is keeping him company. We need to do more…
My wife and I go out for coffee (hot chocolate) with a married couple we know. Lars comes up in conversation and my wife mentions an event hosted by this church in town. It’s happening this Saturday. “You guys should check it out,” she says.
When the old woman gets out of her red car, walks across the street toward us–in her red dress, black shoes and stockings, complete with bright red hair glowing in the morning sun–I answer her questions truthfully.
“Who are you guys with? Salvation Army? Housing development?”
I say, “No, we’re just people.”
Aaron and I are sitting on the sidewalk, talking to Lars, and apparently this old woman feels like we have sympathetic ears because she begins to unloaded her story. Nearly 80 years old, her husband died in her arms just a few months ago in their trailer. When he died, his pension stopped and she couldn’t afford to stay. She has talked to everybody she can in government, and now she’s stuck waiting, looking for a place to live. “The market is squeezing the seniors out onto the streets!”
Aaron and I offer what we knew: a local church was hosting a gathering of support services–
She cuts us off with, “Once ‘church people’ find out I’m a sex change, they won’t have anything to do with me.”
I’m not surprised at her experience, but I don’t know what to say. It’s not until Aaron and I are driving away that I think of what I should have come back with: “We would help–and we’re church people.”
The Church-Hosted Event
Aaron and I park around back because there is no place else to park. The church building is big, men walk around wearing yellow SECURITY T-shirts, and dozens of volunteers point us through the maze of things offered for those in need.
People can see a chiropractor, get their hair washed and cut, meet with counselors, get their picture taken for documents and records, go to the make-over room and have their feet or face treated, have their hearing tested, receive free clothing, eat two meals, and meet up with representatives from just about every service provider in the city.
“I’m overwhelmed,” I tell Aaron after we’ve collected a bag of clothing for Lars. We have a coat, socks, shirts, jeans and a belt for him. Everyone we talk to about him knows who Lars is.
“Yes, we know who you mean,” say the ladies at the clothing table.
“People are aware of him,” say a service provider. “There are lots of people looking out for him.”
“Yes, I know exactly who you’re talking about,” says Scott, the Salvation Army worker. “I’ve offered him all kinds of help. He’s got it fixed in his mind,” Scott taps his head. “You’ll notice he wears the same winter coat, the same wrap-around blanket, the same boots…”
“We picked up this bag of stuff for him,” says Aaron.
“He won’t take it,” answers Scott. “He’ll say, ‘No thanks, I’m fine.’ If you leave him a bag of stuff, it’ll overwhelm him.”
We leave, and I recognize that even in what I thought was simply sharing information–everything I could tell anybody, they already knew–that way down deep this information had become a little seed of pride. God, pride over knowledge of a homeless man? Please, forgive me!
Back to Lars
Aaron and I find Lars where we’d left him. We put a covered plastic plate of breakfast food and a very small bag of toothpaste and bathroom stuff on the sidewalk next to us, then sit quietly for a while. We end up chatting about the cars passing by. Do none of them actually come to a complete stop at the railroad crossing?
Lars lifts his head to watch with us. Every car that drives up to the stop sign at the railway tracks slows down, but rolls through. For the longest time, no one stops. When one woman in a white car actually stops and looks both ways, a work truck towing a trailer almost plows into her. Aaron and I laugh, Lars chuckles.
On the way back to my place, Aaron and I talk about how amazing and loving the church was to host this event. All those people, willing to help.
And then Lars, unwilling to be helped.
But we understand.
“If I was Lars, and smelled like he does–”
“Cigarettes and pee.”
“I wouldn’t be able to walk into an event like that. I’d stop at the door and say, ‘No thanks.'”
We decide to divide up the bag and slowly give Lars one thing at a time.
After buying groceries, I sit down on the sidewalk and deliver a winter coat.
“No thanks. I’m fine.”
“Lars, I heard it’s going to snow this weekend.”
“Oh, man. Really?”
“You’ve got a coat, but you need to layer up. I want you to make it through the winter.”
He laughs again.
“No, I mean it.”
Lots of people are rooting for you, Buddy.
“Way to go, Church! Good job!”