I spent the early hours of Saturday morning with a group of 87 homeless men and women. Several times a week, Friendship House, a local non-profit, opens the doors of First & Center Presbyterian Church to offer hospitality and winter sanctuary to the city of Wilmington’s homeless population.
My job was simple: sit down and have a chat with someone. As I scanned the room, I saw weary faces and hunched bodies, exhausted from a night spent in the cold. Some were sleeping with their heads down on tables, some were playing chess, others were reading or simply sitting in the warmth of the room. I spotted one man with a book open in front of him; he wrote feverishly in a spiral-bound notebook. A fellow writer, I thought.
I made my way to his table and asked what he was reading. As I sat down, I noticed the book was large and leather bound–a Bible open to the book of Deuteronomy. “Just reading about my people,” he said, looking up at me. A long conversation ensued.
He talked of oppression, pain, greed, poverty, and violence–the plight of his people, taken from their homeland and forced to adopt a new unkind country.
Given that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is on Monday, he asked, “What do you think of Reverend King?” He scrutinized me with narrowed eyes as he asked the question.
Searching for the right words I stuttered, “I…um…I…I think he was God’s man.” I mentioned that he would have been 84 this week; he was taken from the world too soon; I wondered at all the change he could have inspired, all we would have learned.
A smile broke the severity of my new friend’s face. “Yes, God’s man,” he said. “But he’s not gone. His spirit is still here. In you. In me. He did what God wanted him to do while he was here and his work continues.”
This man without a home talked of justice, equality, and hope–the dream of his people, long awaited. Still waiting.
As I sat in a room filled with so much humanity I thought about justice–a heavy word weighted with dignity and love on one side; struggle and perseverance on the other. Where is justice for those that sleep on the streets, shivering from the harshness of weather and life? Where is justice for the starving, the displaced, the victims, the fatherless, the abandoned?
How long must they wait?
Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” He proved that one person can shorten the arc, little by little. One person willing to listen. One person willing to stand for the truth. One person willing to offer hope. One person willing to see humanity in everyone.
After talking for over two hours about books and life, the man with the notebook and I shook hands, parting as friends. I like to think the arc bent a bit right at that moment: two strangers, different in so many ways, offering each other acceptance and seeing themselves in each other’s eyes.
Wow, Rache. This is new for me, since I’m still new here. And you know I love your recipes.
But, as far as I’m concerned, this is a the most bittersweet post I’ve read to date.
How about a recipe for equality? For peace? For an end to racism? An end to violence?
Sadly, I think it is longer than we care to admit.
This post was a definite departure from my usual blog fodder, but I felt inspired to write it. The conversation with this man was so powerful and made me long for more–more justice, more equality, more comfort for those that need it most.
But I’m with you. Unless everyone adopts a Dr. King-like philosophy (a seemingly impossible feat) we will have to wait a very long time.
This is a beautiful post. Thank you for writing it.
Thanks for reading it. 🙂
Maybe just a little bit longer than we want to admit.
True. But maybe little by little we can each make a difference.
I hope it won’t be much longer. It’s been too long already. That man has much to teach, much peace to spread. You’ve passed his hope on. And now others who read your story will, too. Beautiful story, Rachel. I am so glad you shared it, here.
Thanks you! He was an inspiring person to spend a Saturday morning with.
Great story. Thank you for serving your community. You are a living example of Dr. King’s words. The time is shorter because of people like you. It is my turn to do my part.
Wow. I really appreciate those words. Thanks for reading.
Lovely piece, Rachel. And thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I do so much like this insight into your humanity. So many decades since that time of turmoil, you’d think this country would be more healed than it is. Homelessness just seems so entirely unnecessary.
How much longer will it be that all living things on this planet can live lives fully, freely, and without fear and pain? Not long I hope. I too wonder what it would be like today with a Dr. King still in it. We may be further along than we are, I think. I continue to hope by teaching compassion and tolerance to the next generation. Maybe then…
Yes, Shannon, the next generation might be able to change things for good. I already think they are a more compassionate and TOLERANT group. We actually took five teenagers with us on Saturday. They were amazing, serving coffee and handing out apples and cookies, and chatting with the men and women. I was so proud of them.
The next generation is making me proud too. They’re undaunted, even though it appears they have a lot of work to do to clean up the mess that we (previous generations) either created or passed on to them. Not only compassion and tolerance, but PATIENCE with their elders, I’m hoping they’ll carry away.
This is just wonderful! I kind of can’t believe I get to have lunch with its author in a few short hours!
You are an inspiration, Rache – what a great message to start today with.
Jules! Thank you! I’m inspired by you all the time. 🙂
Beautiful and thought provoking piece. I’m reading this while watching the Inauguration. It gives me hope, but I’m afraid that we still have many miles to go. But I remain hopeful. And small instances like you experienced with this stranger, now friend, maybe brings us just that little bit closer.
I like to think that small things like this can bring us closer to justice. I do believe big changes can happen one person at a time. Thank you, Misty!
I applaud you for your community service efforts and your kind words about MLK. I also wrote about MLK today and did a little self reflection on his message. I live in the South and sadly MLK day is mocked by many people but we still have a majority that salute the man and his message. NIce Post!
Thanks, Mike! I used to live in Tennessee, so I know exactly what you mean…unfortunately.