Leaving the streets tonight a guy in his early fifties stopped me as I was going to get in the car “Hey, you’re that guy. I know you.”
Better looking than me and dressed much nicer than I ever dress, I asked if we’d met. He said “yeah, in the line.” He was smiling so beautifully, couldn’t help but step forward, do what I do, shake his hand. Ask when he’d been on the corner.
“I was never here. You don’t remember me. It was years ago, in front of the old Union Rescue Mission. You guys saved my life more nights then you could ever know. I got in one of their programs. Got clean. Got sober. Got working. It was a long time ago.”
He was really smiling as he told the story that ended with “You’re still out here. That’s amazing.” And then “Thanks. It’s so good to see you. Really, more times then you could know.”
Moved. But soaked. I thanked him for the kind words and jumped into the car, trying my best to remember him. It would’ve been at least 20 years ago. Possibly even more.
Drove home through the storm. We all were just about dry when we got to the church and the heaven’s opened and we were soaked a second time as we unloaded the trailer and I forgot all about it, until I laid my head down in bed and his smiling face, obvious success, genuine gratitude all flooded over me when I closed my eyes.
It had been a chance encounter that lasted just a few minutes in the rain but to him it had been a lifetime. A life saved. “You guys saved my life more nights then you will ever know.”
His hair and neatly trimmed beard both sported a silver of success and happiness. I was drenched and feeling a few decades more than my age, ready to head home.
People question our work in the heart of the city. There are those who’ve criticized us, saying we’re enabling the chronically homeless. We don’t argue with them. We just keep on doing what we do. Vaclav Havel said some of the things we do just because they make sense. That’s all. There are cold and hungry people in the rain tonight, it just makes sense that we keep on going.
And there are men and women whose lives are forever changed – we celebrate their success – and thank God if we ever had the opportunity to play a small part in their taking the first steps towards healing and home.
So many Sunday nights. This morning my heart is so full I couldn’t sleep. Filled with images of friends slipping out into the cold, wet night and the memory of a man bursting with the opportunity to say thanks. It’s what happens on the streets, The Eternal Miracle sometimes just breaks forth and wakes us up again.
It happened tonight. Wish you’d been standing beside me to hear the story, to share his joy in the storm. Who knows, it might happen again next week. I’d love for you to share it. You’re Invited!