The homeless man at the coffee shop
~ 8:00 a.m.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Early ( for me at least) on Sunday morning.
Sitting at a coffee shop on Providence Road, about a hundred miles from home.
Sitting outside, under the trees. A row of tables beside the parking lot.
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A homeless man walked by. He didn’t look at me. Three or four times he walked by, back and forth, without looking at me. What would I have done if he had? Said Good Morning? Looked away? Taken out my cell phone and looked busy?
As I sat there, a nicely dressed young blond man walked out of the coffee shop. This young man said Good morning, and the homeless man responded in kind. The young blond man asked, Have you had breakfast? and then gave the homeless man the bag he’d just walked out of the coffee shop with.
The homeless man thanked him, and asked if he had a few minutes to talk. Perhaps the homeless need conversation and recognition as much as they need food and shelter. The young coffee-shop customer indicated that he had some time, and they talked companionably. During intervals when cars were not passing too close, I heard bits of what they said to one another.
The blond young man asked the homeless man’s name, and the homeless man replied that his name is Larry. He said, They call me Chilly Willy.
The young man asked how he got that name, and Larry said he sings, plays guitar.
Larry asked the young blond man if he was on the way to church. The young man said no, he and his wife were heading to SC, going to a family reunion.
The homeless man asked, What’s that?, and the blond man answered, It’s, family, relatives, they come from different places, just get together, visit.
And then the homeless man said, I have a brother. I’ll give you his phone number and you can call him. He’ll tell you about me.
The blond young man said ok, and I heard the homeless man give a number – 704-xxx-xxxx. The young man took out his cell phone and entered the number and said, OK, I’ve got it.
Something about that moment, that act of accepting the homeless man’s offering, spoke so much more than the words, I’ve got it. Surely this customer who walked out of the coffee shop and said Good morning to a homeless man will never use that phone number and never even considered that he might, but he gave validation to the homeless man by taking the number and saying, Ok, I’ve got it.
Larry said, My brother will tell you all about me. Larry said he’d been homeless for some years.
He said he got arrested a few times. Sounded like he said DUI, but I’m not sure. I heard Larry say, Why would God make it if it’s not ok to smoke it? And the blonde young man answered, I don’t know, Larry.
And then I saw a young woman get out of a parked car and approach the two men. A pretty young woman with long black hair in a knee-length green and yellow dress walked over to where her husband was standing in the parking lot talking to the homeless man. The young blonde man saw her walking over, and he said, This is my wife. And then he said to her, This is Larry.
The young woman held out her hand and said, I’m pleased to meet you, Larry. The young man said to his wife, Larry sings and plays guitar. Larry said, I can sing anything, I can sing Christian, country, rock, I can sing anything you want. Do you want me to sing for you?
It was obvious, it would be to anyone, it surely was to her, that this was a homeless man. Her reply was, Yes, will you sing something for us?
With a clear musical voice, in the parking lot of this coffee shop, Larry sang.I heard him sing,
Me and Jesus, we got . . . something . . .
I could not make out the words, as cars drove between us, and it’s not a song I know.
The young couple started back to their car, to their drive to SC, to their family reunion, and I heard Larry ask if they had some cash, something they could give him. They said no, and Larry said he had enjoyed talking with them.
As Larry stood on the edge, now, of the street, another car pulled into the parking lot of the coffee shop, and Larry spoke – I didn’t catch what he said – and the car sped up. Larry hollered after the car,
I wish I could go to church. No church wants me there.
The last I saw of Larry he stepped onto the sidewalk and began walking with quick steps along Providence Road, humming, singing softly to himself.
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