Monday, July 30, 2007

A neighbor

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.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful reminder on a Monday morning. Who are my neighbors?

There is a young guy who stands on the corner of 635 and Forest - all the time. I see him almost everytime I'm sitting at the light and when I don't see him at the corner I see him walking down the street. He lives in my neighborhood - he's my neighbor.

Everytime I see him I say out loud "There's my friend". I don't know him of though - but I want to.

I want to tell him to come to the office and see you. I want him to have a home.

Lisa G.

Karen Shafer said...

This is a perfect example of something I meant to write to Charlton (and didn’t) after the July 20 post, “Intentional Ministry to the Poor.” Along with the practical suggestions offered in the 7/20 post, and meeting physical needs for survival, it seems to me that what people living in homelessness and poverty need most is human contact, interaction, kind regard, conversation, concern, eye contact, hugs, smiles -- in other words, to be treated as fully human and worthy of consideration. It always surprises me that they rarely get this in society. The scorn and abuse they encounter is very disconcerting.

Maybe a conversation like the one above that Larry had with Buford will get help him get off the street -- it may be just the ticket. Maybe it won’t. But in that moment, a human connection was made, and it was significant for both people. And, for those of us who practice Christianity, engaging in these moments is an essential part of Love in Action.

hamiam said...

Amen, Brother Larry, amen.

This kind of neighborliness cannot be learned - it's lived.

chris said...

Larry, you said once that homeless people sometimes had rather live on the street than go to a shelter because they need to have control over their lives. When offered an apartment, why would they refuse?

Larry James said...

Chris, the vast, vast majority won't refuse. Only the severely mentally ill or physically damaged.

Justin said...

I see this every day in my neighborhood.

But the great thing is, it hasn't taken but a couple of months and now people are always at my door! So many, that I don't really have the resources to help them all.

So many times, I end up having a sandwich or a beer with someone and just having a conversation. most of the time, I have no idea what they are talking about, whether it be because their brain has been damaged in someway, by drugs, or genetics, but even with those who have mental issues, you can easily get down to the stuff.

But I've found that I can be the one to help them when they are ready, but I like to build a relationship first. It helps them to trust me, and to respect me (because some just want to take advantage) and when they trust me, they realize that I care and want what's best for them. One of my neighbors was struggling with alcoholism. Her husband is dying, and I'd known her for two months or so, and I finally got the gumption to tell her that she needed to be strong for her husband, and she needed to get sober.

And so far so good. Its been a couple of weeks, and she hasn't fallen off the wagon yet. She's still got all sorts of other issues, and is easily taken advantage of, but I'm doing my best to protect her.