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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two Hours With Ned.

I'll call him Ned. He has two other names: one given at birth and one he's given himself.

I've been around him for most of the time we've been here. He's on the street, but for periods of time he disappears. He looks to be in his mid-30's. He's a gentle soul which comes through most of the time. I wonder why he's on the street. For most, it's because of addiction and/or mental illness. For some of the youngest ones being on the street is a summer of "walking on the wild side," and being free from life's responsibilities for a while.

Anyhow, days ago, Ned was at  his usual place soliciting change with his cardboard sign (mandatory gear for the homeless in Northampton). As I normally do, I walked by and asked how he was. He mumbled something about being in a car accident. He has a bike and was hit on Pleasant Street a few days before. He showed me a swollen ankle. I asked him if he'd had it looked at. Ned said emphatically "no!" I'd later find out why.

Later that day, I was heading to a meeting in another town. Ned was still at his usual place. He didn't look good. I was in a bit in a hurry, but stopped. I asked if it was his ankle. He mumbled, looking down, "It hurts so f---ing bad." I said again he had to get to the hospital. He looked me directly and said," I HATE f---ing hospitals. They scare me." I said I understand, but "Your ankle might be fractured. It's not going to go away." He looked away and nodded his head. I told him I would take him to the hospital. He shook his head "no." Right then, two guys he seemed to know showed up and handed him a slice of pizza. I had to leave, but I repeated my offer. He wouldn't budge.

As I headed to the car, I prayed that if God wanted me to help him, he would create another encounter. I couldn't force the situation, but I've always felt a tug toward Ned. Perhaps he was a "son of peace," like Jesus refers to in Luke 10 when sending out the 72.

Well, the very next day, after I'd  gone to Hopkinton to fetch Tricia and meet our newest granddaughter, Piper Rose, we were heading from our car to the apartment to drop off Tricia's luggage and then grab a bite to eat in town. As we sometimes do, we decided to take the Kirkland Avenue shortcut. It's a dismal stretch of dumpsters, graffiti, discarded liquor bottles -- smelling of urine and garbage. It also feels spiritually dark. As we entered, I looked to my left, and there between two dumpsters was Ned. I knew this was the answer to yesterday's prayer. I also knew we had to help him. He was in excruciating pain, grimacing with the smallest of movements. He complained he could not stand on it at all. It was true. He couldn't. The pain was written on his face. He was hyperventilating also because of pain and fear. He'd say a number of times, holding up his hand, "Give me a minute," until both subsided. It was sad. He was sitting amidst the garbage as if he is discarded garbage too.

Both Tricia and I told him he had to go to the hospital to get his injury treated, and we'd take him. He have kept shaking his head "no" repeating he was afraid and hated hospitals. He added to it that he preferred to his entire foot cut off. He would repeat this "solution," even in the hospital. Ned looked and felt utterly miserable. We affirmed that he was afraid and felt alone, but we would go and stay with him until he got treated. Assuring him so calmed him and he agreed to go. We packed him and his backpack (1 of 2 possessions besides his clothes, the other being a decrepit bike), into the rear seat.

We dropped off Tricia's stuff and got crutches we'd kept since her fall on the stairs. Carefully, we were able to get him in the car. I could smell alcohol on his breath. I assumed it was his way of numbing the pain. I also knew he had a drinking problem from word on the street. They all know each others junk intimately, and are quite free to share it, almost with glee sometimes.

All the way to the hospital he apologized for inconveniencing us. He let us in on the fact he hates asking anyone for anything. Over and over, he'd also return to his preference of having them cut off his foot (problem solved in his mind), and that he really, really hated "f---ing hospitals."  He'd suffered serious burns on both legs 12 years before and was in hospital for over as month. Apparently, he'd had an earlier and equally traumatic stay before the burns incident. He truly was terrified about the prospect of going. We promised we'd walk through the entire ordeal with him. Again, he'd calm for a minute, then we'd go through the whole dialogue again.

The ride to Cooley Dickinson took just 10 minutes. We got him admitted with no glitch. I called imagine folks to get prayer going.When he got into an examination room his anxiety heightened; he was agitated, ripping off the ID bracelet they put on folks in the ER, complaining about everything. He'd go in and out of the fear. We kept praying silently and offering comfort. Soon he was whisked away to X Ray to assess the scope of the damage. He didn't like it, but a very patient and persistent X Ray Technician gradually got him to cooperate. We could hear her from outside the X Ray room.

It was only 10 minutes before the Doc came into his room with the good news that nothing was broken, but he had a bad sprain. A nurse came in with an ace bandage and a soft cast. She helped him put it on. She was gentle and resourceful. He made a big deal about "hating crutches," and would not use them, no way. We'd left ours in the car. She gently overcame his resistance. His choice was one crutch and one cane. Gradually, he calmed because this terrifying part of the ordeal was coming to an end. Soon we were out the door. He tried to do a wheelie with the wheelchair. I cut that short and got him in the car.

Driving back (he wanted to go to his home -- the space between the dumpsters), I mentioned the Doc said he could have over-the-counter painkillers. I told him we'd get them for him. He responded with an adamant "no." Ned looked me right in he eye and said, "I have my own painkiller." Then he looked away, repeating how hard it is to ask for anything, but soon blurted out, "I need five dollars for a pint." I told him we can't do that; it was a matter of conscience for us. He didn't press it, and apologized for asking.

Back at his "home" he was overwhelmed with gratitude. He said we were people "with big hearts,"; "we were now family." He called me a "father-figure," and hugged me for about a minute. I'd never hugged a homeless man before. He smelled terrible, but it felt a holy moment to me. I doubt he's hugged much. I told him his life mattered. I didn't know how he got where he was, but he was a person and it was our privilege to help him. I told him God cared and people were praying for him. He said he didn't believe in God, but was grateful for our kindness. He asked for my number because I told him I wanted to help sort through his life and see if he could get back on his feet. Earlier he told me he'd been a landscaper. Maybe he could do that again if he could deal with his stuff and find God in the process.

I realize the entire experience was full of God at his initiative. I know God is pursuing Ned. I'm sure the process of recovery would not be easy at all, but if he wants to try, I'm ready to help. God can and does do miracles

Amazing to me was God honored my prayer and we got to make a difference. Being with him for an hour or so gave me fresh insight into homeless people who are addicts. They're fiercely independent and expect little from others. They have been injured emotionally; fear and anger influence them profoundly. They've suffered loss, abandonment and dehumanization. Ned said he'd lost his father and brother and missed them terribly. He also let me know he responds when treated like someone who matters. His self-absorption is a survival skill, not cultivated arrogance and meanness. He has a heart and craves human connection.

People like Ned is one of the reasons imagine/Northampton is planted on Main Street. Helping him was another step toward serving Christ in people like him (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus says those who follow him will do so. His Kingdom example has to be our Kingdom mission.

I didn't see Ned yesterday, but I hope to today. I hope he'll call me too.

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