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You Forgot Something…(Hey Joe)

I was leaving the bank in front of Pier One when I saw Joe. He caught me by surprise, so I didn’t have time to pull over, park the car and get out. It was sometime in the afternoon. Still cold. This was in late January of this year. I eased the car over, rolled down the window and held out a five. He put his left hand on the car door and leaned into the car slightly.

“Here ya go, man,” I said.

“Hey, thanks,” he said and his hand lingered on the door and he kept looking at me.

Do I know this guy? I thought. What is he waiting for?

I couldn’t park and pray for this man. Cars were behind me and there was no way to pull off to the side.

“God bless you,” I said in weak consolation.

“You too,” he said and removed his hand from the window.

He was young. Maybe early thirties, maybe close to forty. It was a little hard to tell. He didn’t look to be as road weary as some of the other people I’ve met. I pressed the gas and threaded the Explorer into traffic.

Stopping at the traffic light at Zafarano, I kept trying to figure out if I knew this guy or not. He didn’t look familiar, but maybe his face just wasn’t clicking. His expectant look was gnawing at me though. Did he know something? Did he have some kind of intuition about me? That seems crazy, but so does praying for strangers on the side of the street.

Should I go back?

I already knew the answer to that.

I looked over my shoulder and eased into the lane to my right. Then I did it again. I knew I could make my way back if I turned at the Giant store. Traffic was getting to be heavy and it took me a few minutes, but I pulled into the lot by the Blue Corn Café and parked the car in front of Pier One.

I got out, walking towards this guy, feeling strange about coming back. At first he didn’t see me. Then a car honked and the man seated on the concrete in front of me returned the wave of the person in the car, who, I think honked because of the sign the seated man was holding; enigmatically, it said, You Dropped Your Smile. I hadn’t noticed it the first time I drove past.

When the man finally noticed me, a thin smile crossed his face. He didn’t appear to be confused by my reappearance. I think he knew I might return.

“So, I was told to come back here and pray for you,” I said with both hands stuffed into my pockets. Looking at his eyes, I was searching for a sign, or something, to tell me that I was supposed to turn around and come back here.

“Cool,” his watery blue eyes offering nothing but a greeting.

“I’m Chuck,” I said, trying to remain in the moment.

“My name’s Joe.”

“Nice to meet you, Joe.”

Joe was recently clean-shaven. He had dirty blond hair and dark, formerly black, jeans. He wore a black and yellow plaid shirt and a black jacket. I can’t remember what material the jacket was made of. Denim, maybe.

“Where you headed, Joe?”

“Not sure, I’ve been up in Cuba. You know, for the Rainbow Gathering?”

“Yeah…yeah, of course.”

Not Castro’s Cuba, New Mexico’s. It always throws me.

“I was there for a while, but I’ve been in New Mexico for about three years, I guess…”

Then Joe launched into a convoluted story about why he’d been in New Mexico for so long. His tale suggested that it wasn’t by choice and I recall it having a vague conspiratorial air to it. I don’t remember any of the details.

Joe had never gotten up during our exchange. He sat on the ground leaning against the stop sign, looking up at me. His short, dirty-blond hair gusting in the winter wind.

“Joe, do you mind if I pray for you?”

“Sure, that’d be cool.”

“Is there anything that you want me to pray for?”

“I guess…just in general. You know…everything.”

“Okay.”

I stood over Joe and prayed for him, my hand resting on his shoulder. Joe had bowed his head and placed his elbows on his knees. He looked to be staring at the concrete between his legs. Joe still held the sign; it rested on his bent legs while I prayed.

God help Joe. Let him know You love him. Help him find his way.

I patted Joe on the shoulder as I left, and once more told him that it was nice to meet him. Lingering a little, I suppose, thinking that I was going to receive some secret message. A word from God. Why else did I have to make such an effort to get back here?

Walking away, it struck me.

I had to come back for Joe. God wanted me to stand in the gap for him, even though I didn’t pray for anything in particular. It was for Joe. Not for me.

That’s easy to lose sight of. I’m constantly questioning God. Asking Him why I need to do something. What am I going to get out of this? Is this good for me? How am I going to be blessed? That day, I didn’t have choirs of angels of singing, simply because I obeyed. That never happens, anyway. What I got was a guy named Joe, a man sitting on the side of the road holding a sign.

I got the opportunity to pray for that man.

I got the opportunity to pray for another human being. Another soul.

There is no greater honor.

As I was still walking towards the car, Joe called out, “Hey!”

I turned around, and Joe held up his sign and pointed at it, grinning.

You Dropped Your Smile, the sign told me.

Joe lifted his hand and waved.

I waved back, and got in my car, smiling.

 

Thinking back on it, maybe I got my message after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in Joe

 

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Rocky and Bullwinkle

When I met these two, the sun had already gone down. Winter had truly set in and they were standing in front of Wal-Mart holding a sign. They were in their early twenties, at the most. They could have been teenagers. For the life of me, I cannot remember the guy’s name. Let’s call him Bullwinkle, which actually sort of fits.

You’ll see.

Bullwinkle was a thin, white kid with curly, dark brown hair. Think Harry Hamlin in “Clash of the Titans”. He wasn’t quite as strapping as Harry, but he was a good-looking kid. He wore a white shirt with thin blue stripes. In my mind he’s not wearing a jacket, but that can’t be right. It was cold that night. After several months, my memory of him is that of a kid who could be working at the mall. Maybe at a place like Hollister’s. You know one those kids wearing a flannel shirt that has the sleeves already rolled up for you.

 

Bullwinkle had a drum. It was a tom-tom, really. He was slowly beating it as the cars passed him, pulling out of the Wal-Mart parking lot. As I crossed the grass towards them, I began to be a little intimidated. I’m almost forty years and, I’m still spooked by kids who seem cooler than me. Adolescent pain runs deep, apparently.

 

What are these two numbskulls doing out here? I thought. I’ll bet they have a tattered copy of “On the Road” tucked somewhere in their packs. Is this some sort of traveling fantasy? The Great American Quest for the Self? This bitterness blazed through my head, and I felt like a fool. Self-defense had kicked in and within a few seconds, I had written off these two as silly children, in over their heads.

Even so, I held the money in my hand. This time, since there were two people, I pulled out a little more than five dollars. I believe that I had eight bucks. I gave them seven.

“How’s it going?” I asked as I handed the five and two singles over. I was trying hard to act casual.

“Wow, thanks man. We might have enough to get a room tonight,” he said as he looked over at his companion whose face was hidden within a furry gray hood pulled over her head. She was sitting on one of their bags. The sodium lights gave of all of us an orange glow, and the traffic light punctuated the scene with green, red and yellow.

Bullwinkle looked back at me, “Hey, man. How are things with you?” Bullwinkle threw my greeting back at me with a disarming openness. His eyes were unguarded and 100% focused on mine.

“Good…good. Where are you guys from?” I looked away from his gaze. My annoyance was beginning to dissipate.

I can’t remember what Bullwinkle said, but the girl stood up then and said, ”Utah.”

“What are your names?” I asked both of them, but I was looking at her. The girl was beautiful. Dark, olive skin. She could have been Hispanic. What was this girl doing on the streets? What were either of them doing out here? I didn’t think they were on a voyage of self-discovery anymore. These two were running from something. Or someone.

He told me his name, which, of course, I ‘ve forgotten. She said her name was Rocky. They said some vague things about the journey they were on, but I can’t remember a word of it. Then the conversation drifted to the Youth Hostel in Santa Fe. I was the one who mentioned that place. I was becoming more and more concerned with their safety. The idea of them being new inmates struck me. They were not hardened enough for this world, not matter what they thought. They were too fresh faced and, maybe not innocent, but inexperienced to say the least.

“That place is expensive. We tried to stay there last night. The Motel 6 was actually cheaper. It was crazy…” Bullwinkle said. He was becoming more animated and spacey as the conversation wore on.

“Really? That sucks…my wife and I were gonna stay there like ten years ago when we first rolled through town. They wanted us to do chores. I didn’t realize it was so expensive now. I guess that place is like everything else in Santa Fe, it’s not for the people who need it,” I said.

“Yeah…”

“Would it be okay if I prayed for you guys? I mean if that’s okay…” I asked.

“Sure, man, that’s cool. I feel like I’ve been praying for people, too. Every time someone passes by, I beat the drum for them and it’s like a prayer. So, I’m praying, too, ya know?” Bullwinkle said as he looked at all the cars passing us by, a goofy grin across his face.

“That’s cool…” Why not? Why does prayer have to be so rigid? I was smiling, too. The kid was loopy, but endearing. He still had these reserves of hope.

Rocky hadn’t said another word. She stood a few feet off to the side, unsure of me, I think. So, I went to grab their arms to start praying, but I didn’t realize that she was so far away. I retracted my right arm and held it to my side. She didn’t try to close the gap.

So I prayed, holding just Bullwinkle’s arm. I didn’t ask for prayer requests this time. But I made sure to pray for their protection. That, most of all.

As I walked back to my car, I was thinking about my studio. They could spend the night there, I guess. At the time, I still had it and it was close by. Of course, there wasn’t a bed, but they would be out of the weather and it had a heater.

But, I didn’t say anything. I had neighbors, and I just couldn’t drop off strangers to spend the night. Maybe I could have. I don’t know. They would have been in my space, I suppose, but it doesn’t matter, now.

When I got in my car, I looked back at them under the sodium light. Bullwinkle was beating his drum again and Rocky had returned to her seat. I drove past and waved and I think Bullwinkle gave his drum an extra few whacks as I pulled out onto Cerrillos.

 

So pray for these two.

Pray that God will protect them.

Pray that He will keep them out of the jaws of the enemy.

Pray that He will keep a watch over them.

 

Pray that He will show Rocky and Bullwinkle their place in this world.

 

Pray that He will show them the way.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2011 in Rocky and Bullwinkle

 

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A Gathering of Shades (Kenny-part 1)

I believe it was November of last year when I met Kenny. He was standing at the traffic light in front of the Wal-Mart on Cerrillos road. This is a popular location. K (Katherine) was/would be standing here as well (not sure where she falls in the order). Out of all the people I’ve met so far, Kenny carried the most visible pain. He looked devastated. Life had punched him in the stomach and he was crawling on the ground trying to recover, gasping for air.

I fear Kenny may never get up.

That autumn afternoon felt later than it was, with the golden light permeating the atmosphere, dimming it with a golden brown haze. That Fall day seemed more than appropriate to the man I was about to meet.

I think I may have been at Wal-Mart buying something for the house or I could have been on my way to  Home Depot which is close by. I remember that I had my work clothes on: tan, paint smeared work jeans, a cheap gray sweat shirt and sneakers that had logged quite a few miles. They were my walking shoes, but had recently been downgraded to work shoes. Next stop, the trash heap.  At the time I was still in school. I was taking 12 hours at the community college (Photoshop, Indesign, webdesign, Digital photo, a fitness class), and when I wasn’t in school, I would try to pick up as much work as possible as a handyman (Chuck’s Chores).

I never intend to meet these people. God just puts them in my path. I don’t troll around looking for these opportunities. They just happen. Not sure why it was important for me to say that, but I think it was. That day in November, I was just going about my business and God, prayer, and someone else’s pain couldn’t have been further from my mind. Sorry to say, but it’s the truth; I was distracted.

I parked the car in the corner of the lot and took out a five and held it in my hand. I opened the door and headed toward the man holding the sign. Not sure what he had written. I rarely remember what their signs say. Don’t know why. The man looked to be in his 40’s with patchy reddish blond stubble. It looked like he had shaved recently. A scab had been opened on his face, on his left cheek bone. My guess was that it was an old wound and the razor had aggravated it. He wore jeans and a faded, tan Carhart jacket that was worn through in several places. Old white tennis shoes were on his feet. I handed him the money.

“Here you go, buddy,” I said.

“Thank you brother,” he responded, and for the first time I really paid attention to this man. I had been drifting, going through the motions. I stuck out my hand.

“My name’s Chuck,” I offered and as he shook  it, I looked at his hands. They were almost white, like no blood was flowing through them, and they were beginning to crack in this dry, high desert air.

“I’m Kenny,” he said, next I noticed his eyes. Pale blue. But it didn’t look like they had always been that color. I got the sense that the real blue had been drained from them, and this was all that remained. Kenny, overall, was just like his eyes: drained, pale. His skin was a faded pink, common to a lot of people with the same reddish/blond hair that he had. I was starting to be in this moment with Kenny, rather being lost in my head, but I wasn’t quite there.

“Do you mind if I pray for you Kenny?” I asked, lightly touching his shoulder.

When I started praying for people who are on the streets, I never asked about their lives. I would go straight to the prayer, and promptly make my exit. Get in and get out. I have fulfilled my duty, what else do I need to do? Just being out here is enough, right? I thought.

“I’m a Christian, too,” he responded. Just like Travis. “Please, pray,” he added. There was a touch of desperation in his voice when he uttered please. Picking up on that emotion spooked me a little, and I had the faintest thought that I was in over my head with Kenny. This was pain that I hadn’t encountered with Travis. Not even with K.

Kenny wanted to tell me something. And later, when I left him, I was shaken, but not so much by what he told me. It was the way he said it. His tone reminded me of someone. Me.

I saw myself in that man, and it scared the hell out of me.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2011 in Kenny

 

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