Today I hope you’ll join with me in acknowledging guys like my sometimes not-so-lucky friend John. John wouldn’t hurt a housefly but one afternoon he tangled with the wrong guy and fell victim to robbery and minor bodily injury.
John was homeless, lived on the street and usually carried his entire earthly possessions in a bedroll over his left shoulder. That is, until this other guy took possession by force. Whoosh, they were gone. Loss of his worldly goods and a black eye too. Seemed hardly fair.
I sensed he needed a friend and a square meal so I took him to a local restaurant for both. In a previous life he had been a school teacher, a father and soulmate to his spouse.
It had been an awesome life until he had fallen victim to too much of the “amber.”
He lost it all, and more, when he began drinking after the loss of his youngest child. Disassociated, displaced and divorced, he left for the gulf of Alaska and a meaningless job on a barge. Instead of finding himself, the boredom overtook what was remaining of his self-control and he fell deeper into alcoholism.
When the first snowflake fell he packed up and headed back to the somewhat warmer, somewhat dryer big city.
I had come to look for John as he rode his personally refurbished, previously discarded, bicycle around town, collecting aluminum cans and other discarded treasures.
We formed a Friday lunch club and he would ride up to meet me at one of the local greasy spoons. We would talk about anything and everything, with the notable exception of his past, as I tried to direct his thinking toward a more positive future.
Soon, the simmer of summer left us and we were looking into the face of another cold season. John was excited to show me his campsite, complete with confiscated wood pallets (firewood) from the back yards of local businesses and his small lean-to shelter made entirely of pallets and two discarded refrigerator cartons wrapped in plastic, insulation R-factor of zero.
I took him to the local Salvation Army store and procured the warmest jacket they had close to his size. I had grown accustomed to John accepting my piddly donations only after argument. But once I had convinced him of his worthiness, no one wore or possessed anything with as much pride and gratitude.
Burdened with coffee and a sandwich, I dropped by his campsite several times during the later hours of the evenings to see how he was managing. He would almost always be asleep, or trying to be, wrapped as snuggly as possible in his Salvation Army jacket.
Pleading paranoia, he perpetually refused to consider going to the men’s shelter; that’s where he had been beaten and robbed and he wasn’t going to repeat that mistake.
I dared not give him money as it would almost always turn into whiskey or some high alcohol content mouth wash.
On the last Friday before Christmas he failed to come to our Friday lunch club meeting.
I drove to his campsite and grew fearful when I saw his bike there. I found him in his cardboard house, devoid of his jacket, victim of robbery or traded for a drink, his lifeless eyes staring into nothingness.
Today I you have finally found peace in a warmer, safer place, my friend.