This isn’t a story about God or any message He sent me. This is an Everyday People story about a divine appointment I had recently on a Greyhound Bus. Going from the West Coast to the East Coast of Florida is easy by bus, if you don’t mind riding 8 hours and getting stuck next to someone who could easily use two seats, or someone who doesn’t get out much and talks for 4 hours straight.
I was the last person to get on the bus at the Orlando interchange to Tampa. I sat directly behind the driver in a cramped seat, and then there’s a guy running toward the bus at the last minute and he jumps on, looks around, see’s no empty seats except the one next to me. He said to me “Miss, do you mind if I sit here?” I looked him directly in the eye and said, “Sure, have a seat.” He was obviously homeless. He had a bag of peanuts, no luggage and an apologetic look on his face. To be honest, I hoped he didn’t smell really bad. Those feelings brought about shame in me, because how is a person supposed to smell that lives outside and sleeps on the ground?
It reminded me of the song Keith Green wrote so many years ago when born again Christian music was just getting started and he was like the Bob Dylan of that genre. This particular song has words that go like this: I came to your door…I was hungry, did you feed me? I came to your door and I was naked, did you clothe me? And the idea is that we don’t know, when these things happen, if we’re turning Jesus away from our door, as he can come in the form of anything and anyone. So I asked him some questions, just to be friendly. (And because I am the interviewer who needs answers.)
Looking at him, I could see he was still very handsome, had beautiful bright blue eyes and without the wild beard and hair, he would clean up to look like someone’s brother, uncle, son or parent. But we talked and he said since he graduated from high school and dropped out after one semester of college, his mind was made up about being free, not tied down, and smoking his way across the country in a haze of pot. I asked him if he ever wanted a house, a wife and kids, a regular job, and I was sad when he said his heart wanted those things but his nature could not even imagine how he would keep them. His days of working construction were over, due to a bad back.
So here I am on the Greyhound Bus talking to a very nice and kind homeless man and he is telling me some very intimate stuff when he could have called me a nosy jerk and just ignored me. Basically he was normal at that moment, perhaps because he had not had a drink or smoked pot in a few days. He told me a biker took him in for 2 days and let him shower and gave him the clothes he was wearing, but the biker creeped him out and he left. He, at this point, did not even have a sleeping bag and I had to say to myself this isn’t your battle, just be good company for him and wish him well. He didn’t want to go to a shelter because there are dangerous and mentally disturbed people who rob you and hurt you while you’re sleeping. He said the same thing about finding a band of homeless people and pitching a tent somewhere. He said you just don’t know who is crazy, who has a weapon, and he hated having to be ready to run at the slightest suggestion of violence or cops sneaking up on him. So he is an alcoholic, an everyday pot smoker (who hates that no one wants to share anymore) and has three things he has to plan out every day: where is he going to get quality, organic food (does not eat at fast food places, is homeless and is fussy about food?), where is he going to get beer and/or pot, and where is he going to sleep. He was quite serious about taking care of these issues the way you or I would have to work, go grocery shopping, pick up the kids and make dinner. I tried to wrap my brain around that and realized he was perfectly serious, that this is what he had done for 30 years.
There was some prison time in there, which is probably par for the course, and I would not have especially wanted to see Steve drunk or completely wasted because that is when he might be pretty scary. He told me he had not really tried to “get with” a woman in a long time because even the women in the homeless crowd carry knives, box cutters and other homemade weapons.
Sure, I wanted to give him money. I wanted to tell him about the Salvation Army program in Sarasota, or Resurrection House, but I realized he didn’t really didn’t want any of that, he was a free bird and I watched him fly away when we reached Tampa and I asked the Lord to protect him. Then I realized he does exactly what he wants to do every day of his life and the fights, stealing, drugging, etc. was the choice he made. I watched him walk away and I felt bad that he had burnt all of his family bridges and was just one lonely person in survival mode 24/7. His biggest wish was to get a good night’s sleep at a cheap motel where he could wake up feeling stronger and able to get by another day.
When I said earlier in this piece, that this was a divine appointment, I meant that for some reason I was meant to have this conversation with this man and I will continue to pray for him to be safe. It made me think of how fortunate I am, even if I need things I can’t afford, because I have a family, a roof, friends, and a God of my understanding who I can call on at any hour of the day or night. Just some food for thought for 2014. Bless someone less fortunate than you, whether by having conversation with them, feeding them or more importantly, treating them as equals. In the end, you will be blessed immeasurably.