I was returning a DVD at the outdoor kiosk last week, and a boldness overcame me. There he was, again, the same guy, standing outside the convenience store asking for handouts. I saw him there often, working the odds: ask enough people for a little and maybe he’ll accumulate enough for a meal. Or a fix. Hopefully both. I had about twenty minutes before my next appointment, so I approached him and asked him bluntly, “what’s your deal?” He stared at me blankly, evidently wary of my intentions. I rephrased my inquiry: “how did you end up out here in the cold?” He dropped his shoulders, picked a spot on the ground to fixate upon, and explained that he had lost his green card, and that his life “spun out of control from there.” He explained that the loss of his wallet several years ago left him in need of several hundred dollars in order to replace the card. Since the loss left him without identification, he explained, he had been unable to obtain employment, and ultimately landed on the streets, first in Harlem, New York, then New London, Connecticut, and now Lynn, Massachusetts.
As I listened to his story, the “missing piece” became evident, but I allowed him to continue until he had completed his lengthy “explanation” (or as I like to call it, “lame excuse.”) He hadn’t seen my social worker license and badge hanging from my neck, yet, so he didn’t realize to whom he was speaking. Had he known that I’ve encountered this very dilemma with my own clients, and successfully assisted them in resolving their problem through the utilization of local immigration services, he would not have dished me such a story. So I asked him again, “why do you ask me for money every time I use the Red Box?” He stated, “I just told you, I lost my I.D.” I kindly asked him to drop the facade. “Come on, what drugs to you do, man?” He paused, looked up from the ground, and returned his gaze to the sidewalk. “Don’t front, I’m not judging you and I’m not a cop,” I said. He looked up again and said, “cocaine. As much as I can get.” Now we were getting somewhere. “I stand out here all day and scrape together enough to get a $4 meal at the Chinese spot, and the rest goes to coke. Fifteen minutes of happiness is all I can afford.” Happiness. Huh.
I ended up giving the young man (he was only 27) my contact information, in case he decided to utilize local detox and rehab facilities. Then I bought him a Snickers bar and gave him our church information, in hopes that he would join us on Sunday.
The encounter got me thinking. What separates me from that guy? Same flesh, same blood, same pursuit of “happiness.” Do I settle for less than I’m capable of achieving? Have I lowered my own bar of standards in order to avoid hard work and sacrifice? What makes me so different from him? I was overcome with gratitude as I thought of my mother and father, who not only cared for me, educated me, and prepared me for adulthood, but introduced me to Jesus Christ. Without God, I could be anywhere. Who knows, maybe I’d be a hot-shot lawyer. Or homeless. Either way, without my Savior, I’d be desperate and hopeless. The truth is, we are all undeserving, and we all need Christ’s unconditional love and forgiveness. That is where true hope comes from.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NIV)