Early yesterday morning as I was a couple of minutes into my before sun-up constitutional, I stopped to mention something to "Eddie" who was having cigarette in front of Dunkin Donuts on Main Street. He's often there at that time to warm up, get coffee or food, and sometimes doze-off for a few minutes before business picks up.
Eddie is one of the street veterans who prefer being on the street no matter the weather. I've known him since we moved to Northampton. He's a tough guy; a man who worked the construction trades before life went awry. He's not an addict or a panhandler. He's highly opinionated, sarcastic at times, and he knows Jesus. I think he thinks most people are idiots all dressed up. He does go to church, referring to it as "My church." Eddie is always coherent, never psychotic or delusional.
Often I ,or Tricia and I will walk by and wave since he's planted at his same spot in Dunkin at the same time everyday. Tuesday, he was outside and I wanted to mention something to him. I knew I was taking a risk by so doing because he's an irascible cuss, and not easily swayed. His mind is set about much.
I began by asking how he was, and he reported he was fine. He'll let you know if he's not. After a little more small talk the thought occurred to me to mention The Open Table project we're working to launch. I was about a minute into explaining it and suggesting it might be something beneficial for him when he stopped me abruptly protesting vehemently that the reason he was on the street was only because of the injustice and betrayal of others against him. They put him there. he said he'd been a working guy who needed a job. He also said he did not want to participate in another church. I reassured him being the recipient of this ministry would not be a backdoor way of getting him to attend imagine/Northampton. He reiterated he had a church, and if they betrayed him he would abandon religion completely.
His voice was raising in agitation, almost righteous indignation. He now used words laced with expletives. I'd touched a nerve, but he was not out of control, just very angry. He said he needed no help from anyone, but God. God was the only one he'd trust. God had gotten him this far and it would be God who'd bring justice on those who ruined his life.God knew what he was having to endure, he just had to wait until God did something about it. He would hear no gentle questioning of mine of his theology. He never has in the years I've engaged him.
Our conversation lasted 4-5 minutes. I realized he had to have experienced some substantial injustice somewhere, sometime. He could've provoked it, but his life-upsetting was vividly real to him. He's also never changed his story. Standing before me was a man who believed he was holding fast to the principle that he'd never give in to what they'd done to him until it was set to right. I've heard his story before. There is authentic pain and loss to it, including job, family and integrity. My error was in assuming, given how the Open Table works, that he might be willing to try.
All I did was rile him up. I apologized, and he was gracious. He generally is to me and Tricia.
I felt a little rattled as I headed for the Smith College track. My takeaway was I need to get better at discerning who is ready to face life and change, and who just isn't. Sometimes my desire to help clouds my judgment. Genuine motives don't accurately predict fruitful outcomes.
Pray for Eddie. He's just a guy who is trying to live from the courage of his convictions, rightly or not. He's willing to stay the course until justice in his eyes is done, and he's been paying a steep price for holding the line. I respect that, but I'm saddened by what I still think is blinded stubbornness.
Just pray for him.