Unbelievably, his face appeared to be the least of his problems. Jodi had run to me, “There’s an injured man. Don’t know what happened but he looks bad.” Several guys carrying plates of food spoke to me “Eric, there’s a guy… don’t know what happened, he needs you.”
On the ground, under one of the trees, – fighting to sit up – trying to hold his plate of food, crying, I found him. His wrist, in such odd shape, unable to hold the plate, I could only assume it was broken. Trying to lay down on the concrete he cried out, cursing, “My ribs must be broken.” Through tears, barely coherent, he said “I have to eat.”
Sitting in front of him on the sidewalk, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, I held his plate for him. Close, so he only had to reach inches, and waited as he adjusted the fork in the hand he could still use. I moved the plate as he battled to put the softest of the meal Jackets for Jesus had served that night into the part of his mouth he could still chew with.
Our team continued to serve. No one driving through the city stopped to help. 28 years, every Sunday night on the same street, and I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve watched the tragedy unfold before their eyes and have stopped to help.
I try not to dole out judgment on those who stop at the signal of 3rd and Main St, gawk, pull out phones to take pictures, then drive away. I’ve been in that uncomfortable position of not knowing what to do when someone obviously needs more help then we know how to give. The first thing I’d done is beg him to let me call 911. Told him how desperately he needed to see a doctor. He refused. Said he’d walk away if I called. We’ve had that happen before as well.
Asking his name, he was open and more than willing to tell me about the three separate beatings he’d received that day. When I asked why, looking at me like I was from another planet he merely said; “They always beat you. Always.”
Coughing… food flying everywhere… cursing again he said: “My ribs have punctured my lung. I can feel it” he wheezed. Frustrated with his broken appendages, he simply dropped the fork, filled his hand with a fist full of macaroni and cheese, and began to refill his broken mouth… his broken life.
I’m not sure how he gets beaten so frequently. Even after 28 years in the heart of the city there’s so much that goes on that I have so little understanding of… I’m quite certain he would have told me everything – he wanted to talk – needed to talk but maybe like the people stopping in their cars to take pictures, I wasn’t certain what to do, how to address the deeper issue of a broken life, so I talked with him about his broken body.
His plate nearly cleared, struggling to stand, I again begged him to let me call 911. Asked him to lean in close to me and I took this picture of his face – showed him the blood – tried to convince him that this was real and he shouldn’t ignore it. Again he looked at me like I was from another planet. How could I not understand what was going on? He asked if I was going to post the picture on my fb. I asked if he wanted me to post it? Was that ok? “Sure. Show everybody. I don’t care.”
He didn’t. My heart broke to imagine that a perfect stranger could care a bit more about his condition than he did.
I could tell you how he was dressed, how his nails were done, invite you to speculate on what kind of lifestyle takes him into a framework of believing that “they always beat you” is ever acceptable behavior. But I already feel guilty sharing his picture, even when he said I could. I don’t like to speculate on what might be or tag a label on someone as if that’s an excuse for driving by and ignoring their pain.
We show so little compassion for people who may be different from us… not if they’re affluent, on television, in magazines… but if they’re in the gutter; broken, crying out for help, starving… it’s so much easier to label them “homeless” and be over it.
I’m writing this so you will know that in our comfort, wealth and relative ease – people just like you and me – children, siblings, and parents are fighting to make it through the day. Often the poverty they battle is not just the simple economics of food to eat and where to sleep but it’s mixed up with the confusion of their own personal battles that have often brought them to their knees, begging for compassion and finding none, they dwell with a poverty of spirit and look out on much of the world as if it’s a wasteland that’s rejected them, simply because they didn’t fit.
Too often we have. Too often they’re right.
Those of us who profess to follow Jesus would do well to remember that He not only fed the starving and healed the leper cast off from society but he also refused to condemn the woman caught in the act of adultery. Against the religious leaders of her community he knelt in the dirt and found his alliance with her, showing compassion, in grace – forgiving – and sending all the other’s away.
How are you doing in the compassion department these days? How is your heart for those who are broken daily and yet somehow, remarkably, get back up and give it another go – knowing full well that “they always beat you.” Would you be strong enough to continue with life so brutally stacked against you, when you were broken, bleeding and rejected again? I’m pretty sure I’m nowhere near that strong. Think I’d throw in the towel and call it a day.
Sitting on that filthy sidewalk he didn’t gross me out. His strength to continue in a world that had shown him so very little compassion inspired me. Inspires me still today. I suspect it’s one of the reasons I keep going back to the heart of the city every Sunday night. Unsung heroes live there. The world calls them failures, homeless, cast offs. God calls them children. His children and as long as we’re bold enough to pray “Our Father,” we’ve still got brother’s and sister’s living in desperate straits who deserve our love, attention and compassion. It’s how we become family. It’s how we make the family whole.
We’re going this Sunday night. No clue what to expect. No clue how we’ll pay for the dinner. Last week a friend gave us gift cards that covered the meal. You can help. You can donate to lift up a fallen brother or sister with a meal. You can come and help Jodi and the team cook and prepare. You can join us on the streets. Incredibly, people are waiting to welcome us. Together, we can bring our brokenness and find Light and Healing in the darkness. God is too good. You’re Invited!
for changing lives,
Eric M. Denton