Encountering Christ: The Homeless

I went to Confession today at Holy Cross.  A visiting priest there instructed me to sit for a few moments in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and allow the Holy Spirit to give me direction.  I did.  Mass was soon to start, and I had planned to stay for it, but I was directed elsewhere.

On the way to the church, I had seen a man standing on the corner of  Farnam and Saddle Creek Road with a cardboard sign that said, “HOMELESS – EVERYTHING HELPS.”  Beggars are not uncommon in this half of town, and when I see them, I always think of “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”  God gave me a weak spot in my heart for beggars.  When I look at them I can’t see anything but Jesus.  If I can, I give them what they ask for.

So today I got back in my car and drove to that intersection.  The man was still there.  I parked in the lot behind him and approached him.  He was an older man, a Native American with longer, wispy gray hair, wrinkles, and a few missing teeth.  He wore a Colorado Rockies jacket over a thin dark tank-top.  He greeted me with a mixture of hope and uncertainty.

“Hi,” I said.  “I don’t have any cash with me, but if you’re hungry I’ll buy you dinner across the street.”  I gestured to the Don and Millie’s restaurant on the other side of Saddle Creek.

“You want to?” he asked with just a shade of disbelief.

“Yeah, if you’re hungry,” I said.  He nodded and folded his sign into a tattered backpack.  “Meet me there, ok?” I said.  He nodded again and went to cross the street.  I drove my car around to the restaurant (not easily – from that corner, it involved two U-turns).

We went inside and I noticed he smelled strongly of alcohol.  I asked him what he wanted.  He briefly examined the menu, then said “Whatever is cheapest.”

“No, what do you want?” I said.  He went over to a table and put down his bag.   I ordered a hamburger meal for myself, then asked him again what he wanted.  He made a dismissive gesture.  I ordered another hamburger meal for him.

I went to hand him his cup, but he said, “No, I have my own,” and pulled an enormous plastic mug with a straw from his bag.  He went over to the fountain to fill it (regrettably, I didn’t notice with what) while I paid.  Then he took it and his bag, meandered across the dining room, and selected a corner booth near some young women whose scrubs suggested they’d just come from work at the University of Nebraska Medical Center across the street.  I filled my drink, grabbed our tray, and joined him.  He was astounded.  “All that, for me?”

“Well, some of it’s for me,” I answered, and unwrapped my burger.  He began eating his fries with liberal amounts of ketchup.  I bowed my head and offered a prayer before my meal, finishing with the Sign of the Cross.  He noticed and thanked me for the meal, while quickly crossing himself as well.  “What’s your name?” I asked.  He slurred an answer I couldn’t decipher, and I asked him to repeat it twice before he began spelling it in frustration.

“D, A, R, R, E, L, L,” he said.  Darrell.  I said it was nice to meet him, and we both began eating earnestly.  Between bites, I asked him questions.  Where was he from?  “The reservation.”  How did he end up here?  He offered an explanation I didn’t quite understand – it sounded like perhaps a death in the family.  Is he going to find a home?  “Yeah,” he answered with blunt confidence.  What’s he going to do tonight?  “I don’t know what I’m going to do tonight.  Probably sleep in the rain.”  I answered wryly that I didn’t think it was going to rain tonight (I was wrong).  He asked, “Where are you going to sleep tonight?”

“I have an apartment in midtown,” I told him.  He asked where.  I told him the intersection and pointed in its direction.  He nodded.  “You’re wearing a Rockies jacket – are you a fan?” I asked.

He smiled.  “Kind of.”

I was almost finished with my burger, and his was still sitting on the tray in its wrapper.  As I ate the last of mine, I watched him open his bag, pick up the burger, and put it into the bag.  I told him I was full, and I offered the rest of my fries to him.  I got up to fetch some napkins as he continued to eat.  I heard him gather the remaining fries and put those into his bag as well.  When I got back to the table, he was listening to the young ladies’ conversation and interjected a joke, which they didn’t hear.  He smiled and asked for a napkin.

He asked if I go to school here.  I said I did go to UNO.  He said his mother is in college as well.  “She thinks she’s smart – she ain’t smart,” he said, and cackled.  I didn’t quite know what to say, but I glanced at my watch and realized I needed to leave.  I had an evening meeting to attend.  We got up and  I threw away the trash.  He said he was going to get a refill.  “If you see me again, gimme a holler,” he said, grinning.  “I’ll pay you back.”  I laughed and told him to take care of himself.  I left, got into my car, and drove away.  As I turned back onto Saddle Creek Road, I saw him marching across the parking lot, waving and grinning and flashing me a peace sign.

This was my encounter with Christ.  I have had experiences with beggars before which left me extraordinarily moved with pity.  This was not one of them.  It wasn’t a Hallmark moment, but a somewhat uncomfortable meal shared with a dirty, alcoholic homeless man who had no idea where he was going to sleep that night and who would rather have French fries for dinner and save his hamburger for later.  That last detail more than any other leaves me wondering what else I could have, or should have, done for him.  It makes me wonder, as well, why I always see Christ so much more clearly in these destitute and abandoned men than I do in the people I know and see every day.

In all likelihood, I will never see Darrell again in this world.  By now the food I gave him is probably gone.  Now I (and my readers) can only pray for him.  I don’t know how to approach God about it other than to ask that Darrell find his home.

10 Responses to “Encountering Christ: The Homeless”

  1. […] here: Encountering Christ: The Homeless Category: Food & Drink | Tags: blessed, burger, church, defensor-veritatis, dining, entry, […]

  2. […] Anyway, you go there and see for yourself. As you can see, all their posts are about us. Encountering Christ: The Homeless – defensorveritatis.net 09/03/2009 I went to Confession today at Holy Cross.  A visiting […]

  3. Brad says:

    What an amusing pair of pingbacks.

  4. Nancy says:

    funny I was just writing a script from the point of view of the homeless and found your blog. God bless your journey… you might enjoy the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius.

  5. Brad says:

    Thank you, Nancy.

  6. bel says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful and blessed experience of yours. It’s really how funny God works. Running across your website is such a blessing and once again, another affirmation from God that He really wants me to do what He asked me to do. Actually, just recently God has been giving me these thoughts of treating a homeless guy to a meal but somehow, just didn’t have the courage yet to ask the homeless guy and to ask someone to come along with me. I still continue to pray to God that He will give me the strength and courage and to be able to freely share His love with others with no reservations. I know in my heart, God is teaching me something and I can’t wait to learn it so well. By His grace, I know I can do it.

    Thank you and God bless!

  7. Brad says:

    Thank you for your comment, bel. All glory to God.

  8. Diana says:

    Thank you for sharing this, and for doing the hard thing for God. Your experience is a wonderful inspiration.

  9. Brad says:

    Thank you for the comment, Diana.

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