Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I did something today I've never done before. It started out a usual Tuesday. Woke, read a few devotional passages, showered, dressed, and drove to work; found a parking space a couple blocks from the building, checked the time, and realized I could spend an hour or so before I clocked in over a sandwich and the Word, listening to a podcast sermon.

As I walked by my work's building on the way to the Quiznos across the street, there was an elderly gentleman outside of the Premiere Radio Networks building holding a "Homeless" sign. It said something else, but I didn't read it. I took another step, for a split second continuing on, and then the Spirit hit me.

"Have you eaten today?" I stopped and asked him.

"No," he mumbled.

"Would you like to have a sandwich with me?"


I explained we could walk across the street and grab a sandwich, and he folded his sign and tucked it in a plastic bag he had, then grabbed his cane and I introduced myself. He said his name was George. As we began to walk, slowly of course, George said his hair was short like mine but for a different reason: he'd just had brain surgery. He lifted his blue baseball cap to show me the huge scar where his hair did not grow, arching from just above his forehead to the back of his skull. He said he just got out of the hospital three days ago. I have to admit, my thoughts were skeptical. The scar looked too old...I'm no doctor, but that was my impression. I asked him how it happened, if he fell or something. He said yes, it was a work accident and he just filled out the Workers Comp paperwork and was waiting to hear back. I wasn't sure if this was the story he tells everyone, but then it settled on me that it didn't matter much. The scar was real, what he went through was real, and it didn't matter really if it was as recent as he said or not. Curiosity and the spirit of cynicism remained with me though, so I continued asking him some questions…in part to learn more about him, and also to figure out if the details of his story were true. I asked him how long he was in the hospital, and he said, "31 days."

As we crossed the first crosswalk, I asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a "carpenter by trade." That of course, made me think of Our Savior, and I almost said, "So was Jesus, He was a carpenter by trade." But I didn't. It sounded too corny in my head.

He mentioned he was trying to get out to Thousand Oaks because he had an aunt out there.

As we approached the sandwich shop, he asked me what I did and I told him I worked in radio. He asked "what station" and I explained it was a syndicated show, heard nationally, so it depended what city one was in. And that it wasn't heard here in Los Angeles, because the local country station had gone off the air.

He said he was hoping to get a room for the night, and he only had six dollars so far. I made note of that, at first wondering if he was trying to ask me for money, but then thought that it didn't matter.

We entered Quiznos, set down our stuff (his bag and cane, my bible, notebook, and headphones). We ordered, but he wasn't sure what to get, he seemed uncomfortable about choosing and said he'd get whatever I got. I told him whatever he wanted, and explained a few of the choices (I'm not sure if he could see well enough to read the menus on the wall.) He ordered a roast beef sandwich, I got a Baja chicken. We got combos with chips and a drink. As we approached the register, he seemed in thought for a moment and said, "What happened to KZLA?" That made me laugh. For those who don't know, KZLA was the local country station in Los Angeles for over 25 years, but just last year went off the air. (See my End Of An Era blog.)

He said he used to listen to it all the time, and I gave him a very short version (yes, it was! I am capable of short sentences!) of what happened.

I paid and gave him $10, telling him to hold onto it for later, either for a meal or to save for a room that night. He said he'd probably use it for a room. (I meant to ask him where, but we never got back to that part of the conversation.)

We'd set our stuff down at a small table just inside the door, but the place was empty so we moved to a larger table. I filled up my cup with iced tea and so did he (he took sweet-n-low, I like mine plain). He brought me a straw, the simple gesture of courtesy that touched me.

As he sat down I asked, "Do you believe in the Lord, George?"

"Yes, I do." (I don't know if he said this to placate me, but for the moment, it was good enough for me.) I explained I was going to pray over our meal first, and when he got settled, we bowed our heads and I did so, thanking the Father for His provision, for having us meet and sharing this moment together.

As we ate, we chatted sporadically. I asked him how his accident happened and he told me in more detail about the pile of rocks that hadn't been set correctly, that he sat on and then fell from when they gave way. I said, "Praise God that you're still with us. Obviously He still has work for you to do." He agreed and told me about the paramedics saying that they didn't expect him to make it, that he was lying in a very large pool of blood, and remembered a priest had been called. He told me he got to watch his surgery because they had video taped it. I asked him when the accident happened and he said, "May 6." I didn't do the math based on the information he'd given me before, but his hair was short enough to be about a month's worth of growth had his head been shaved. I decided then to stop inquiring about the details. Like I said before, what did it matter if his story added up or not. He was homeless, hungry, and hurt. If I could work to remove one of those, and maybe the latter two, even for a short period of time, that was what mattered. To me, at least.

I told him about my small scar at the side of my head, a pinky-fingernail-sized spot where my hair doesn't grow, from a wound I got when I was a little tyke and my head hit the corner of a metal toolbox. (Yeah yeah that explains a lot about you, Rich. I know. And I'm sticking my tongue out at you.) He said he could see it, and for a moment, I chuckled thinking we were about to swap more injury stories, but we didn't.

George said he was 58, and I looked at him. It had been a hard 58 for him, I could tell. Despite the head scar (which wrapped around his ear), he was missing most of his teeth and his nose was extremely crooked, obviously having been broken at least once, if not more.

I asked him what his sign said. He said, "Homeless. Will work for food and shelter." I asked him how often people took him up on that. He said once in a while. He said he had a guy today who was going to pick him up so he could do some yard work for him, which is why he kept looking at his watch, checking the time. He didn't want to miss the guy coming by. George ate half his sandwich and half his chips, and got a bag to save the rest for later. I usually would eat my whole sandwich and thought that I might remain sitting to listen to my podcast after all, but felt fed and full for the moment, so I wrapped up my other half and decided to walk back with him.

As we walked, I told him about the road trip I was going to take, we talked about country music and Christian music being based in Nashville. He mentioned his mother lived in north Florida, and that the river she lived on was about as wide as the street we were crossing. One side was Florida, the other was Georgia. I told him I'd think of him and his mother as I crossed it. We crossed the street back to where we'd met and I wished him well, telling him I hoped everything would work out with his Worker's Comp claim. He thanked me again and we traded "God Bless You's" and I walked away. I turned back to say:

"Just remember it's Him who takes care of you." (Maybe that ain't good grammar, but it's what I said.) "It's not me, it's Him." George gave me a thumbs up.

I'd like to think it was the Father giving me the thumbs up. I'd like to think I could have done more, said more, spoken better about Christ, challenged George a little more to see if he was really in the faith. But I was already out of my comfort zone, and perhaps so was George. It was a mix of paradoxical feelings...wonderful and awkward, friendly but slightly distant, strange and natural. Kinda like life.

- - -

It was just over two hours ago that I parked my car and then met George. I had to pause in writing this just now to go move my car (two hour parking limit on the street), and noticed he was no longer at the corner. Hopefully, that guy who was going to pick him up did so.

I still don't know how much George really believes in the Lord. I can only hope and pray I did my part to show him He exists. I've fed the homeless and hungry before, but I've never actually sat and shared a meal and my faith one-on-one like today. And practice makes perfect.

I just need to keep acting on future opportunities. And it's not about me having the chance to say, "hey look what I did!" As my friend David says, sharing events like this can inspire others to do similar acts of kindness, to maybe step out of their comfort zones and do more.

If you have occasion to think about it, please pray for George and keep him in your prayers. And pray for me, that I might continue to please the Lord with whatever service I can do for His purposes. I'm still learning. Today was like a nice first day at school.