Last Thursday turned out to be the hottest day of the summer. The thermometer hit 108 at some point in the afternoon.
As usual, I made my way to "the porch" of the abandoned house where I hang out every Thursday that I'm in town. I carried with me an ice chest of bottled water. I sat down to wait for people to pass by. One indicator of the heat's impact: I passed along about 100 bottles of water during the two to two-and-a-half hours of my visit.
Activity and interaction remained almost constant as I sat there or stood to greet friends and new people.
One young man talked incessantly about everything and nothing. I really couldn't understand his "speech," but he clearly felt the need to be heard. I understand that, don't you?
His mood swung wildly during the hour or so that he stayed with us. At times he sounded very angry, almost frightening. Then he would lapse into laughter and sweetness. My buddy, Art, tried to interpret the speech for me.
"He's a real good country boy, Larry," Art shared. "He just doesn't feel like anyone is paying attention to him."
A large part of the man's "speech" had to do with his needing and wanting a job, a common theme of the conversations I have weekly.
At one point, I sat down beside him to listen more closely.
"How long are you guys going to be here," he asked at one point.
We told him we would be moving along fairly soon.
"I know you are a preacher, but I was hoping someone could watch my things while I walked to that liquor store!" he confessed with a broad smile and a big laugh.
"What makes you think I'm a preacher?" I asked, amazed myself.
"Cause you are doing right out here," he replied.
I told him not to be too sure about my "rightness." I didn't watch his stuff, nor did I take him to the liquor store. I did tell him that I'd see him again, and I expect that I will.
At one point in my visit another man asked, "Are you a Christian?"
"I try to be," I replied.
"It's not about what you do," he instructed me. "It's about what's inside you."
I agreed with him.
"I knew you were a believer. You have no fear. You're fearless," he told me.
"Fearless? You mean out here?" I asked.
"Yes, you're fearless, you don't fear anything external," he explained.
"What's to be afraid of," I asked. "Just good people here," I continued.
The man shook his head.
Great learning here.
One, everyone wants to be heard, to have their story known, appreciated, respected and not ignored.
Two, no one wants to be regarded as someone to be feared.
Barriers are all about not understanding, about insecurity and about fear. Most based in lies, almost all unnecessary.
I saw so much care-taking, so much community out on that corner, all around "the porch" last Thursday.
Before I left I told Art, "You have real community here. All you lack are places to live."
"You're right," he said enthusiastically.
As I was leaving, a man who had been sitting there the entire time asked for another bottle of water. I gladly gave it to him, my last bottle.
Just as I turned to leave another man ran up the sidewalk toward me.
"Hey, brother, can I have a bottle of water?" he shouted.
"I'm fresh out," I explained. "You can get you some ice from my chest," I told him.
The man who had received my last bottle spoke up,"No, here you go, brother. You can have this one, I've already had some," he said as he handed the water over.
Community lives on that corner and on that porch.
Now all we need are more housing resources. Remember: shelters are not housing.