Living in my inner city neighborhood feels a lot like a small town. It reminds me of my childhood in, what was then, small town Richardson, population about 1,200.
No matter where I go around here, I run into people I know and who know me.
Saturday evening, I stopped at the Chevron station at Carroll and Live Oak. As I filled my car's gas tank, Buford approached me intending to ask if he could wash my windows in exchange for pocket change.
As he approached with squeegee in hand, he recognized me.
"Well, hey there, Preacher," he said, as if that were my name, with a sense of relief that he knew me and that I knew him. "How you been?"
Before I could answer, he broke into a conversation about the Central Dallas Church and its move and how he had not been able to find it. I reminded him again, as I had the last time we talked, of its new location.
I asked him if he was ever going to get off the streets. He just hung and shook his head, all in one motion.
I'd really like to help you," I told him.
"I'm going to give you some money and you're gonna go buy some food and a drink, or whatever," I continued. "But, I know that doesn't really help you!"
"Hey, Preacher, I'm going to have a beer before the nights over," he explained, "but, I won't use your money for the beer."
"I don't care if you buy a beer with my money," I told him, to his surprise, "All I care about is seeing you get off this street. I like you and I know you like me. Right?" I asked.
"Yeah, thanks, sure, right," he replied with a big smile, as he crossed himself and touched his heart with both hands, his street version of the sign of the cross.
So, why do you stay out here?" I pressed him.
He hung his head again.
I told him about apartments we now have available for him and others like him. I explained what he needed to do to get one.
"I can work for it, Preacher," he offered with some new enthusiasm.
His quick assurance reminded me that everyone, almost, wants to work for what they receive. Everyone maintains some measure of pride and self-respect no matter what their baggage.
"Just come by my office next week and let's get you into one," I urged him.
We talked some more.
As we talked, a realization swept over me.
He was my neighbor and my friend, and he regarded me the same.
He just wanted to talk. He didn't want me to leave. He needed my friendship. We talked for a long time before I had to leave.
If we have a chance of changing things for him, it resides in this reality.
For years I've been trying to help him move off the streets. For years it hasn't happened.
He told me that his companion of many years, Darlene, had passed away. Darlene, a haggard woman who lived the last of years of her life in a wheelchair that he pushed everywhere, had meant everything to Buford.
"I miss her a lot," he shared.
"I'm really sorry," I told him.
When he sensed that I had to go, he threw his arms around me and gave me a big bear hug. He wished me well and said he'd come by to talk some more.
Being in the same neighborhood makes us neighbors. I'm hoping that we can find a way together to get him into an apartment he can call home. He deserves better than camping on the streets of our small part of this huge city.
Driving away, I realized that Buford only wants what I want: to be loved, to matter to someone and to be heard and understood.
We're all the same.
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