A Simple Presence

Simple Peace-making

There she was. And down a ways, there they were. Tall, big dudes. Eyes wide. Edging closer, their bad intentions starting to seep through the group of hungry men, felt by spirits standing near. Amazing how potential violence is contagious, the flip side of humble kindness which is infectious, peaceful. Back to the woman in a moment.

Something about a bus pass I think. I didn’t catch any other specifics, didn’t need to know, didn’t matter. But whatever it was, it wasn’t going away. Nope – once crossed, the boundary of basic civility affords little resistance to hostilities seeking expression. And with these two folks, that boundary was probably already pretty thin because they were homeless.

Being homeless tends to cause one to place a highly-inflated value on the smallest of things. One man carried an electric razor, cord dangling, for what ultimate purpose, hard to say: perhaps a future bartering chip. Not having a dependable and sustainable protection from the elements breeds irrationality, an inability to overcome any potential of another loss, another disappointment, another reason to conclude the universe is inescapably hostile.

As the two moved further down the alley, more and more of the men in line for lunch sacks heard their posturing. “Do you wanna fight me” – “come on, let’s do it” – “somebody give me a phone to call 911” – “I’m not trying to go to jail.” Eventually they passed behind the woman who was quietly, calmly passing out bologna sandwiches and bananas.

I wish I could remember what she said, probably something along the lines of “Hey fellas, let it go. Come on now, not worth it.” But it wasn’t her words, it was her gentle presence and the calm expression on her face as she positioned herself between them. She was a good foot or so shorter than the taller of the two men. And to watch her look each man in the face, smile, preserve their dignity and help defuse a potentially dangerous situation … amazing.  Some minutes later, others helped to emotionally “hold” the men and absorb their anger until it dissipated.

Such a clear reminder of our Lord’s invisible Presence in us at all times, especially when the fractures of our common nature seem ready to erupt. Let us continue to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” His faithfulness is without measure, without limit to all.

“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God.”

What Really Matters …

I met a man once . . . he was in a line some time before dawn, waiting patiently; eyes cast downward, not entirely comfortable being where he was. He shuffled forward, furtive, guarded, survival etched deeply in all his features.

What he was really like, God knows, I don’t. And I don’t care. It is possible he was once a successful man according to the world’s standards, perhaps a pillar in the community, a charitable man, a man of means, a man of no mean report. But also possibly an angry, addicted, abusive man when no one other than family was around. It doesn’t really matter.

Perhaps he was a lover of alcohol, enslaved to “demon rum,” damaging his brain, his liver, his family and everyone he ever cared about. His children were, at once, terrified or thrilled when he would return home from work each day, depending on who showed up – saint or sot. And now, years after they were grown and gone, they wanted nothing to do with him. NOTHING . . . but that doesn’t really matter in this very instant of encounter.

After his first business venture crashed and burned due to his philandering, his gambling, his “cheat and manipulate anyone in his way” homage to Lord Dollar, he learned to fight in the school of prison, in and out, in and out, too much until his mid-50’s body and mind convinced him he was too tired and old to keep doing this and that.  But all of that doesn’t really matter.

Today matters: he had nowhere to lay his head. He couldn’t remember the last time any other human being trusted him, even a little. The sadness in his eyes was deeper than a cold mountain lake. He couldn’t count the number of scrawled cardboard signs he had held by the side of interstate exits.  A good day for this man?  7 or 8 bucks, maybe 10 during the Christmas season.

And then back to the alley, or next to a steam vent, or under the bridge, or by the river, or next to a junkyard . . . “junk” living next to junk and stench, scrambling in dumpsters for anything possibly resembling a blanket. Ever wary, ever on-guard, ever beaten down by life and his toxic choices. But that doesn’t really matter.

Because today, as I meet this man, only one thing matters – only ONE . . . his hands. It is a bitter, piercing, 60  February morning. His hands are naked. The same hands which he used to caress or strike his children in days long past, are now desperate for one thing: a pair of gloves. At that moment, it was the only thing that mattered.

Nothing from his past had any significance, influence, or bearing in this simple encounter. Nothing in his story had altered the singular Truth of this man’s existence: he was an image of his Creator. He was invisibly a brother to Him who took the sins of the world onto His shoulders. The fingers of this image of God were in serious danger of frostbite. Donated coat and thin pants pockets offered little resistance to mother winter. In this singular encounter, the ONLY thing that mattered: naked hands need gloves.

Jesus’s broken brother needed my gloves. He got them. He mumbled his embarrassment, “No, I can’t take them, they’re your gloves.” But I convinced him it was my choice – “I want you to have them – they’re a gift.”

As I hurried back to my warm van, to my warm house, I reflected that I have several pairs of gloves, and buying another pair, even 10 more, wouldn’t come close to impacting my budget.  And with deep gratitude, I remembered that never once in my long life have I been cold without any hope of becoming warm. Never even close. My hands, by God’s grace, have never been naked.

I blessed our Lord Jesus in this man, and humbly asked Him for the grace of repentance in my hard heart. It’s all that matters.

“The rich are given to the poor for their benefit; the poor are given to the rich for their salvation.”  St. John Chrysostom