Dear Homeless Man Sleeping on the Steps of my Church

            “Love like I’m not scared/ Give when it’s not fair . . .”—Lyrics by For King and Country

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The view of the sunshine on this morning from my school’s stairwell, just before the third floor.

 

It was a brilliant morning in spite of the chilly temperature. The sun, a bright bulbous orb of succulent cantaloupes, ripe nectarines, and juicy ruby red grapefruits—all bleeding into one blinding source, seemed to float above the river, gloating in its victory over darkness. It’s reflection danced the foxtrot with the silvery tipped water of the Ohio River on left side of my car as I glided across the bridge on my way to work.

 

Slipping on my sunglasses, I turned onto 6th Ave., heading east towards my school of employment, St. Joseph Catholic School. The green lights worked in unison as I sashayed in the sunglow down the avenue with no stops. All the while, an inspirational song played on the radio . . .

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The view of the sunshine from a house window before leaving for school.           

 

          “ . . .Live life for another/Take time for a brother/Fight for the weak ones/Speak out for freedom . . . “

 

Finally, a red light stopped me, just before turning left on 13th Street.   I waited, singing along, “ . . . Fix my eyes on You/ On you . . .” basking in the warmth of the luminous light of the sun.

Looking to my left, I quickly scanned the front of my church, St. Joseph Catholic Church, near my school, as I waited for the light to change, I noticed the coolness of shadow was upon it as the sun was not yet high enough on the horizon to offer its warming radiance. Something, perhaps it was a movement, registered in my mind that something was off; however, my focus had already darted back to stoplight.

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The view of the sun that morning just before pulling out of my driveway.

 

          “Find faith in the battle/Stand tall but above it all/Fix my eyes on You/On You . . .”

 

 

 

Slowly easing the car to left, I looked to the right, something was moving. It was on the church’s steps. Slowing down even more, my mind finally began to register what I was seeing. A man, who had been curled up in a fetal position only moments earlier at the top of the church’s cold concrete steps, picked up a wadded-up camouflage green jacket that had served as his pillow and shrugged it on as he visibly quivered in the morning coolness. He looked around in what appeared to be a sheepish and embarrassed look as he reached for a backpack with one raw, red hand, and clasped his chip with the U-shape of his thumb and forefinger with the other hand, absentmindedly rubbing his unkempt beard. He had to be freezing, I thought as I punched the code to open the gate to our parking lot.

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Even my cats were warmer and better fed than this man I saw before me.

 

          “I’ve learned the lines and talked the talk . . .But the road less traveled is hard to walk . . .”

Should I go check on him? Would that be a safe thing to do? I know what my husband, father, mother, and daughter would say: unequivocally, no. But, what does my faith teach me? What words do I spout to my students?   What noble ideas do I write about?

As my mind waged its relentless back and forth battle, the seemingly homeless man made the choice for me, he was already walking swiftly past the now closing gate on towards the bus station, or perhaps downtown, as his long, lanky body hunched against the cold. I stood there frozen, watching him walk, and loathing myself for my inaction. I didn’t even try to stop him or speak to him. My inner cloud of doubt and uncertainty now overshadowed the glorious glow of the gleaming sunshine.

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As an educator and former Kindergarten teacher, I try to look upon the inner kindergartner of the homeless people I observe and/or encounter around the Huntington area. Not once, during my thirty-plus years of teaching, has a child ever said to me, “When I grow up, Mrs. Hill, I want to be a homeless person!” Never, ever have those words been uttered.

 

Each homeless person on walking our streets has a biological mother and a father. Furthermore, each, at one point in their life, was once a small child entering school. How many countless hugs have I given over the years to “my students?” How many countless words of encouragement have I offered?

 

Most of my students came, and still come, from homes in which they have at least one parent who loves and wants them; however, there have been a few students with home situations that still haunt me . . .

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Dear unknown man, I am so very sorry for whatever circumstance you’ve encountered in life that brought you to the steps of our church. I’d like to think that God held you like a baby in His arms that night on those steps. I’d further like to think that all the prayers, intentions, and words of the thousands of church services previously offered were seeping through the seams of the doors and windows like wafting incense, covering you with a blanket of love. And yet, the reality is as harsh as the shining sunlight must have been to your eyes on that morning.

 

I did nothing for you that morning. Nothing. I did not walk my talk, and I am ashamed. Thus, I honor you in this small way by recognizing that I saw the child in you: and, I pray that you will, one day, see that you are a child of God—and know that you are worthy. I will further hope that you will, one day, find peace, and that it will embrace your life like a motherly hug, or at the very least, like the hug of a caring teacher.

 

            “It takes a soldier/Who knows his orders/To walk the walk I’m supposed to walk . . .”

 

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