“But that God is not among you. He’s outside, in the empty night, in the darkness, in the snow that falls inside the hearts of outcasts.”
-Ka of “Snow” by Orhan Pamuk
In the freezing wind I saw a city trashcan with its top hanging off to the side. As I passed it, a strange thought entered my mind. I imagined someone curled up, hiding in it, surviving, alive, dead, or maybe the body was put there. Should I check to see? I turned around, carefully walked back to the can, and peered into its depths. Just a few scraps of rubbish. “Someone could die out here in this cold,” came the intuitive thought across my shivering lips. I continued on my way.
Roy and I met, not long after, under a cold, serendipitous night of sorts. I was walking briskly home from a jazz club where I had an engaging conversation with a young lady about faith, the church, and Jesus. This discussion had also begun as if from a chilled wind of the Spirit. The month of November was unbearably cold this year.
Trotting to catch up with me, a shorter, well-bundled, black man cautiously asked where I was heading. I responded, “I’m heading home where it’s warm. Where are you heading?” I asked quickly, hoping to extend the formalities before his inevitable request for money.
Roy said he was trying to find a warm place where he could get a bite to eat, “Chubby’s,” a local 24/7 diner.
“Do you think you could spare any change to help me out?”
I was hurried, cold, and unwilling to fiddle with my wallet. I chattered loudly with a grin, “Let’s go to Chubby’s! It’s not far out of the way from where I’m headed!” Aside from the occasional weather complaint, we power walked down Main St., hurried a few blocks west to quickly turn south on Broadway, and determinably charged toward “Chubby’s” in silence.
My mind started lusting for hot coffee and eggs. It wasn’t until I took my eyes off this prize that I noticed Roy struggling to keep up with my pace. After apologizing for walking so fast, we chuckled again about the climate, crossed the street, and practically fell into a warm booth in the diner. As I now recall, I once enjoyed late night conversation with a pretty girl at the very same booth.
Roy appeared to be in his forties. I asked him questions of his origin, his family, his life situation. I told him about my job, my family, and did my best to create a comfortable normalcy about our spontaneous outing. We both ordered meals, had “Chubby’s” famous cinnamon rolls, and I downed three or four cups of hot coffee. Roy was homeless, new to Kansas City by two months. He had followed a ‘friend’ here for construction work; due to unexplained conflicts, he was then separated from him, and tonight of all cold nights, was unable to find even a warm hallway at his friend’s abode.
Fully knowing I was buying Roy’s meal, I tried to suppress the rising thoughts of inviting Roy to stay on the couch of my shared house. Cold, caffeinated, naive, I explained to my quiet, new friend that he could probably stay at “Chubby’s” until morning.
Roy mumbled sheepishly that he hadn’t slept much in the last few days, and with a resigned sigh, paused, looked into my eyes and said, “I’ll fall asleep.” He was afraid. Embarrassed. I did not think the staff would kick him out, but I couldn’t be sure. I had shared with Roy that I play music at a prayer room called Hope City that, amongst other things, offers the homeless a place to stay. He’d mentioned trying to get into the larger homeless shelter in Kansas City, “City Mission.” I suggested Hope City again, where I had stayed for six months as an intern and drew careful directions on a sheet of paper for him to follow across the city, explained that it’s a smaller shelter, that it primarily acts as long term housing for recovering addicts.
Part of me thought to walk the short two blocks home, and then return to “Chubby’s” later in the morning to guide Roy on public transit to Hope City. It was unreasonable though. Trying to again suppress my growing inclination to provide him shelter, I explained out loud, ”Roy, I have roommates, and I won’t have a chance to consult with them, otherwise I’d offer you my couch.”
Roy quietly nodded and mumbled, “I understand, you don’t need to do that.” But I saw a sad glimmer of hope deferred in his eyes. I sighed. Our meals finished, Roy was nodding off in his seat. I was perplexed. Conventional wisdom says inviting strange, homeless men into your house, especially without everyone in the house knowing, is stupid. Would Roy try to rob us? Was he violent? Was he an escaped felon? I couldn’t ask him those things. I couldn’t be sure, but he may have had a mental illness. Who doesn’t though? I battle my own ill thoughts and depression. Fear.
Recalling my conversation with nice young lady at the Green Lady Lounge earlier that night, I decided that fear was what was stopping me from obeying the law of love, the spiritual gift of hospitality, and the clear instruction of the prophets to welcome the stranger, to not let fear stop us from meeting and entertaining angels.
A quiet peace came over Roy’s face as he drifted asleep across from me. All his wrinkles, his walls, his entire disposition seemed to melt into childlike innocence of rest.
“Roy… I’d like you to stay on the couch. I’m sure it won’t bother my house mate,” I said it.
Roy’s brow tightened with awakened hope and disbelief.
“No, it’s okay, you won’t be able to ask him you said, and if he sees me there-“
“It’s fine, there are two couches in the living room. I’ll stay on the other. Even if he wanted to he wouldn’t say anything, and I’ll be there to talk to him if need be. He’s harmless.”
I looked at Roy. He was also. “Can I trust you?”
Roy looked tired again, “yes, yes.”
I showed Roy in. Offered him water. Showed him the couch, embarrassed at my fleeting concern about him sleeping next to our big screen TV. Roy was already falling asleep. I hurried upstairs to fetch my blanket and sleeping bag, offered them, selling the bag as the better choice (as it was a zero-degree winter gear sleeping bag), and watched Roy sensibly grab my childhood blanket and cuddle up with it. I snatched my housemate’s blanket and sank into the couch on the perpendicular wall.
We didn’t sleep in too late. Around eight thirty, we departed for Hope City. The same pretty lady I had first visited with at “Chubby’s” happened to be leading an intercession set for the youth of the city. I now remember her praying for God to use us to minister to the homeless during the previous Wednesday night prayer meeting. Roy and I sat next to each other, though on opposite sides of the aisle. I quietly went and found a few leaders and told them about Roy, and they looked into arrangements for Roy to stay at Hope City for a night or two.
As I sang and prayed for the youth, an exhausted and elated smile quivered across my face. Next to me, across the aisle, I witnessed indiscriminate tears quietly wiped away. Roy was experiencing something painful and beautiful; I was sure of it. After our free Hope City lunch, I said goodbye to Roy, assured by Hope City staff he would have a place to stay.
I later found out Roy didn’t return that evening. A small disappointment tried to crawl into my mind, but I realized it wasn’t that; it was a different kind of thought. Worry. I worried that he hadn’t found a safe place. But it was out my hands, so I trust God.
Either Roy really was an angel or Roy continued on his journey, ever closer to the One who provided and provides the very lasting relief: faith, hope, and love.