Two weeks ago after returning from doing leadership coaching in West Springfield, I was made aware in a very small way of what people on the street experience daily.
We had just moved into our apartment in Northampton. There was only one key to the street-side entrance and I didn't have it. It was 10:15 at night and I was locked out. No big deal, I thought. I could see the lights on upstairs on the third floor. Tricia must be up so I will just call her. Problem solved.
I must have called 20 times over the next half hour. She wasn't answering. That could mean she was charging her phone or she was asleep and charging her phone. I usually returned around ten from the coaching, so it was not unusual for me to not quite be home yet. She wasn't wondering where I was.
A few days before, I had met a man on the street named Mike (not his real name).. He looked to be about my age. He did not have the appearance of a street alcoholic, drug addict or mental patient. He wasn't unkempt or street worn. He was alert and self-contained.
Interestingly, no matter where I went in Northampton, he would be there. It's important to know that we had talked many times to people about the idea that one of our goals was to serve people on the street. He was on the street and I could not avoid him. It seemed that God was saying "Put your money where your mouth is," with this man, so I did. I talked to him a bit and made a connection.
So as I was sitting on the bench in front of our building wondering what to do, I thought I would go talk to this man. I had seen him sitting around the corner earlier. I went and asked him if I could share the bench. He invited me to take a seat. For the next 30 minutes we talked about his story. He had some sort of relationship with the God of the Bible (I had seen him reading it before). He had lost his job, his church and his family for reasons he did not reveal, and I did not press for. He was assertive and pained by his situation. He was also an overcomer. I could tell by how he talked and the turns of phrase he used.
As it turned out, toward the latter end of our conversation, Tricia called wondering where I was. It had been an hour past when I should have returned home. She came to fetch me and I said good night to Mike.
Upon reflecting later over what occurred, I realized I had been given a glimpse into what folks must experience on the street of having no place to go. Because of our vantage point from the apartment, I can see the street and I am beginning to recognize homeless people. During the summer months some spend the nights walking Main Street because it is not safe to sleep on the streets at night, especially for women. Mike slept on a bench during the day because he said it was "safer." He is a burly guy with attitude. He could defend himself, but preferred the safety of the day for sleeping.
From my conversations with him and watching him and others sitting around with little to do, I realized the malaise of living on the street. Just sitting for an hour and not being able to get into my home, gave me a sense of being cut off with nowhere to go. I didn't like it even though I knew I would get in sooner than later. I had a surprising and uncomfortably forlorn feeling of being displaced and alone. It was weird given my actual circumstance, but very real.
I realized many of the people on the street must wait for simple things like getting enough money to eat. They wait for places to open so they can eat. They wait to get cleaned up. They wait for family to step in and help. They wait for shelters to open and beds to be made available or housing they can afford. They wait for government checks to come or clinics to open. They wait to get high and to get clean. Some wait to find there way back to sanity or any return to a life of simple stability and order.
A few wait just for another day to get over before another waiting day begins.
Another few, I suspect, wait for God to do something . . . anything.
More than I realize, wait to die.
Yet, I know there are people on the street who are not powerless to do something about their situation, but being displaced is intimidating and creates a disconnection from life which can be overwhelming no matter who you are. People become invisible and eventually dehumanized. They remain ghostwalkers to many of us.
Any life wasted or lost is a flat-out tragedy, I think. Living on the streets because you have to is a profoundly wasting predicament. Living there because you want to, is not much better in my opinion.
My point is that in my little wait God let me feel the sense of being cut off from the mainstream of living in society. He wanted me to glimpse the loss, fear, waste and fultility that homeless people must experience from time to time, or maybe all the time. He did that in little over an hour.
I sure hope this awareness will not be wasted on me in the days ahead.
Please, Jesus . . .