Occasionally, the corner offers up more than I can handle emotionally.
That was the case last Thursday as I talked to people in the cold. We huddled up for conversation in the cold wind, drinking coffee to cut the chill as much as possible.
My friend "Blue" came by.
Blue is a chronic inebriate.
Strangely though, he seems to handle his life fairly reasonably and with good affect.
Thursday he seemed somehow different.
He never asks me for anything. Usually he will accept a bottle of water, which he did on this day.
Out of character, he said to me, "Will you help me?"
Surprised, I answered, "How can I help you? What do you need, Blue?"
He smiled at me and then grew sober, as if he were embarrassed by his request.
"You don't have to help me," he informed me.
"If I give you money, if I help you, tomorrow you won't be any better, will you?" I asked.
"I'll be the same Blue," he answered honestly.
Our conversation shifted to a longer term view of life and options. I reminded him of previous conversations about a job in the new Opportunity Center, possibly in the new kitchen.
"But, I've got to have you sober, Blue. If you want a job, I'll be depending on you to be sober and able to stay on the job," I reminded him.
I told him that I believed that he didn't need anyone to "give" him anything but a shot, an opportunity, a second chance.
As I spoke those words, he broke down.
"Do you know that I am in love with a dead woman?" he asked with tears in his eyes.
"What do you mean?" I inquired.
"My lady died. I still love her," he explained. He told me her name, but not much else about her death.
Still, I began to understand a bit more about my friend, about how he got our here and about his problem with alcohol.
I expressed my sympathy to him.
With tears streaming down his face, he begged me, "Give me a job, please, give me a job! What I need is a second chance."
We continued talking about the options that were ahead, including possible housing in our Cottages development just down the street, a vast improvement on the driveway in front of the Merindeno's filling station next door where he beds down each night.
He lingered longer than normal.
As I was picking up my stuff to leave, he helped me load up.
As I prepared to leave, he wrapped me in a bear hug and said, "I love you, Mr. Craig James [oh, yeah, I forgot to mention he calls me Mr.Craig James!], I love you man!" "I love you, too, Blue! I love you too," I told him.
I drove away, emotionally spent and thinking about a job and a house for my friend who deserves a "second chance" every bit as much as I do.
Trouble is, if he's anything like me, just one more chance won't be enough.
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Rising from Ashes
Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
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