Friday, September 14, 2012

Thin Places

Maybe you've experienced one.

You find yourself in place that seems to "connect" with other realities, either in your past or possibly a sense of what might be ahead for you. 

Some refer to these extraordinary experiences or realities "thin places," those locations or dimensions that touch the "other side" of life, allowing you to sense something at work beyond your control but important for your life.

I moved up against such a "thin place" recently while visiting with homeless friends at The Corner (Malcolm X and Dawson where I pass out ice water almost every Thursday).

Two gentlemen approached, each taking a bottle of water.  We chatted for a bit, talking about the day, the project across the street and life.  One of the men, Eric, said something that told me he was not originally from Dallas.  When I asked about  his home, he told me that he was from Shreveport, Louisiana.  I shared that I had lived in Shreveport for two years and forty-five minutes!  The back story on that comment will need to wait for another post!

I took a seat on the porch of Billy's old, abandoned house.  My new friend from Shreveport sat on the steps just above the sidewalk.  We both enjoyed the shade.

After a few minutes, I took a chance and asked a pretty far-fetched question.

"Did you ever know a guy in Shreveport named Wayne Nelson?" I asked.

A little background.  Now, I first met Wayne when he was 10-years-old.  I was a very young minister working at a church in the heart of the city located between a very rich, old neighborhood and a very poor historic community. 

Wayne lived with his grandmother  across the street from my church in one of the row houses that had degenerated into a slum block, owned by a slum lord. 

The day we met Wayne was outside the church attempting to get a drink of water from a fountain that hadn't worked in years.  When I happened to walk out of the church, Wayne jumped on his bike and flew away!  I shouted for him to come back, and he did. 

"Come inside.  We have a ice cold drinking fountain," I told him.  [What is it about water and this very 'thin place'?]  We went inside, Wayne got a long drink of cold water and our friendship began!

Wayne became the first African American guest in our declining church, maybe the first ever.  But that gets into the back story that will have to wait for another day. 

He visited with me after school most afternoons.  He came to our house for meals and play and fun. 

By the time we moved to New Orleans, Wayne had turned 12.  He really wanted to move with us.  I've often wondered what might have happened had we worked that out with his granny. 

Wayne seemed developmentally challenged.  He was not as far along as other children his age.  I really loved the kid, and he loved me. But, I haven't heard from him in years.

Fast forward to the corner and back to my crazy question to my new friend, Eric. 

"Did you ever know a guy in Shreveport named Wayne Nelson?"

"Black guy?" Eric asked thoughtfully.

"Yes," I replied.

"Crazy Wayne?" he exclaimed.  "Everybody knows Crazy Wayne!" exclaimed.

"What do you mean by 'crazy,'" I pressed.

"You know, kinda slow," he explained.

"Yes, that sounds like it could be him," I said.

"Man, I stayed there by Wayne," he told me.

"You mean you lived in the row of houses across the street from the church?" I asked with growing wonder.

"Yes, right there off of Southern Avenue," he explained.

"My church was on Southern Avenue!" by now almost shouting at Eric!

"Wayne's doing good these days.  He lives out by my sister," he told me.

"Was he a skinny guy?" Eric asked

"A rail," I replied.

"Yep, that's him.  He was always skinny, skinny, but now he's fat!" he explained through a mounting laugh.

"Eric, do you know the odds that we would meet on this corner almost 40 years after I met Wayne Nelson and have this conversation?" I asked him and myself.

"My sister sees him," Eric offered.

"Next time you talk to your sister would you tell her to tell Wayne that Larry, the preacher said 'hello'?"

I intend to try to find Wayne.

But one thing is certain to me.  The Porch on The Corner is a mighty "thin place."


rcorum said...

I have had a few of those events. They are difficult to explain, but the feeling you get is impossible to fully describe. Great story.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a quote. Ann Lamott says "cooincidence is God acting anonymously."