Only a week before I’d first seen the homeless man in the oversized sweatshirt entering a rear door during a local church service. Gathering a cup of coffee – and being on the receiving end of a hug from a stranger – he quickly and quietly faded back into the landscape of life.
But the next week, as if something continued to pull him to the weekly gathering, he returned. Only this week, he stayed around as the service concluded.
Walking to the back of the room, two others introduced me to him on the sidewalk outside the small, one room church housed in a converted bar.
Extending my hand I volunteered my first name, him returning the gesture. As our hands met, his fingernails, dark and sharpened to a fine point, contrasted the pink nail beds and neatly trimmed edges of mine.
His eyes were surprisingly bright as they projected from the depths of the shade of his hooded sweatshirt. He sheepishly smiled as he spoke with the others sharing the sidewalk.
This moment is critical – you want to make a human connection, but not intrude on the other’s privacy. And to be someone without a home, privacy is one of the few items they own and control.
A pause between conversations came between us – and then the remarkable happened.
Reaching into the pocket of his sweatshirt, his hand searched through an assortment of hand-rolled cigarettes. The practice of harvesting tobacco from unfinished and discarded cigarettes is a common practice for many who call the street their home.
“Want one? I rolled them myself.”
His gesture touched me. Here was a person offering me of the few things in life he had to offer another – a figurative offering of the ‘shirt off your back’ gesture. In doing so, his gesture was to make a connection with another human being.
I thanked him, telling him I didn’t smoke but his offer was most generous.
He smiled, understanding, returning the small white item to his pocket.
Our conversation reignited, him asking me questions and nodding as we spoke. Oddly he asked me my age, to which I replied.
“And you? I said.
He said he never ages. My face must’ve replied before words could be formed in my mind.
“You know, now that I know Christ, I never age.”
I found his words honest and compelling.
“When I’m done living here,” he said, gesturing to the streets around us, “my life continues up there,” his eyes glancing to the sky above.
His perspective was beautiful. Each week pastors preach to share this concept – one that requires us to have a faith in the unseen, a continuation of life unseen by man’s eyes. A pathway that asks us to give when we’ve little to give, to serve others when we’d rather do something else, and love others regardless of their choices or decisions.
If anything, on this Easter weekend, the words of the man hanging around the edges of a weekly church service should serve as a reminder to live our lives as the long play – one not limited to the world we see with our eyes and touch with our fingertips.