Hebrews 13:2- Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
I saw the Ragged Man again. I was getting my coffee, he was sipping his over by the curb. It seemed almost funny, him sipping on that pretty white and blue paper cup, me waiting for mine, and probably neither of us can really afford the expense. But there we are, both doing the same thing. The same cup.
It made my indulgence seem weirdly more wasteful than usual. Seeing him with that steamy cup, I thought WTF? Are we just the same? It’s entirely possible that he has more money than I. The fact that I don’t look like he does, and I am not sitting on the curb in rags is not lost on me; I have never been what I look like. Maybe he is not either.
I see him there, I really do. I see that he is a crazy, scary, street person, one to be avoided. I don’t know why I don’t see him the way he must really look. He is undeniably filthy, rank, matted. There’s something wrong. No one leaves themselves this way without something being broken, unstable, devoid of a social intelligence. Because no one can really get near them, and he knows this. Perhaps he wants to keep people away. But he does not want to be invisible. So…I watch him.
He may be potentially dangerous. Not someone I put myself in the way of. I learned this the hard way, decades ago.
I see these things. Yet I see another, a different man, than the one reclined at the curb with the unlikely white cup. I see a man, a person, inside the costume of rags. He thinks, he relaxes and drinks his coffee, like me.
I think about who he is. I really don’t know, and can’t say why I care.
A friend gave me some pieces of the puzzle this week, yet I don’t even know if they are facts, or a sort of legend; the common knowledge people relay about things they know nothing about first hand. Stories become fact, are told as such, until they might as well be.
No one seems to know his name, but for some reason my friend seems to think it’s Rick, or Richard. He says he is an old vet. A Jarhead. I imagine this to be true, for my earlier guess he has a military background.
We both guess Rick to be in his forties. Not so very old. My friend is young.
He has seen Rick whirl around and snarl at people who got too close. I don’t know if he truly saw this, or heard about it. He said Rick is scary.
Maybe Rick is scared of people, being too close.
He says Rick soils himself, inside all those rags. There is a large patch of what looks like mud on his backside. He says that’s not mud at all, but the caked on layer of using his clothing as his bathroom.
I believe Rick sleeps rough. I don’t believe there’s any way he sleeps somewhere inside, bathroom or not. He is dressed for success in living rough, and we know he smells. Any place that shelters homeless people would have taken those clothes. Perhaps he sleeps by the creek, where it’s muddy and concealed. I think it’s mud.
I don’t know.
Yesterday I read about hospitality, about being kind to strangers, how a stranger can mean someone who is different. How we may be “entertaining angels, unaware.” And while I have always known this scripture, here’s what grabbed me:
I learned that the biblical word angel translates to messenger. Angels are God’s messengers.
I am not a theologian, no bible scholar. I don’t have a bible to thump, though I do have one. I am as likely to pay attention to the red tailed hawk that landed on my car twice a few years ago, to stare at me before taking flight again. I don’t try to look for hidden meanings. I pay attention to things that get my attention, and do not discard them as random. God speaks to me in any way he wants to. Why not a hawk, or a street person?
I don’t know what the message might be.
I told my friend the story of meeting Rick. He was first silent, then thanked me for telling him. He brought up the scripture I reference here. He told me he has a new picture of Rick now, and wonders if I see Rick the way he might have been before there was anything wrong with him. I don’t know why we are talking about Rick still, and I talk about what is going on in my friends life right now, as he is effectively homeless himself. I try to encourage him, but I am also tough with him. I know his life is turned upside down, but also know he is sane, and skilled, talented. He will be ok if he doesn’t spiral into a bottle or fall in with destructive people. It happens just like that sometimes…divorce, loss, illness, misfortune, PTSD…people lose their way, reach for comfort, become prey for users, become broken, give up. The fight back from that state is more than most people can bear. I won’t stand by and watch the spiral. I will speak the words that I know not where they come from, and if he doesn’t fight for his life, I will let go. I’ve had to learn to do this, but I can never harden myself.
I saw the Ragged Man, relaxed, at the curb. I don’t understand how he looks relaxed, and confident, yet coiled for action should it come his way. I have never seen him move fast, but I know he could. I don’t know how it is that he is an outcast, but moves correctly in his skin. Not furtive, not with the jerking movements I have seen in filthy lost people, not vacant, not lost looking. I wonder again who he is and who he was.
I see his new buddy there again, nearby. He is big, dressed in cammo, and very clean looking. Buddy has a very full, immaculately packed shopping cart. He reads the newspaper in the sun. It strikes me that he reads the whole thing. He drinks coffee too.
I’m waiting for my coffee again at the drive thru. I laugh, because the fact that I buy coffee here is absurd. I need to make my own, and save the money I spend here everyday. I’m not rich, in fact I’ll tell you, I am broke. I made a promise to myself that I would stop saying those words. That I’m broke. Saying it makes me hear every day that There is not enough. There won’t be enough. I won’t have enough. I can’t take care of things.
I’ve done pretty well with stopping those words lately. I’ve been saying the opposite. There will be enough. I can do this. I am being provided with everything I need to do my job. I don’t have too be scared.
I laugh at myself. I have to watch Rick, to realize that there’s enough. That I already know I choose to buy this coffee every day, as if I can afford it, so what difference does it make if I buy Rick a cup of coffee? I must feel rich, because I buy two, in case he wants to share with his friend. The fact that he seems to already have money doesn’t escape me. I don’t really think he needs me, or my so called money. Or me buying him coffee. In my world, we buy coffee for each other sometimes. Not out of pity, or power, or great intentions. It’s how I was raised. You make or buy coffee for someone, because it’s meant to be shared, and it’s hospitable. It is almost a communion, in some cultures. I was raised in the old school. Coffee is like a church, meant to be visited, and shared, not just consumed.
I ask the barista what he drinks. A double shot mocha. Sometimes two shots of espresso.
That is all I really know about Rick now.
Myself? I am listening.