Last week, a young man in our Joe’s Community was beaten with a baseball bat. It is amazing that he has survived. He is still recovering in the hospital, and will likely suffer from his injuries for the rest of his life. It is true that so many negatives could be pointed out in this young man’s life. Drug addiction. Gang violence. Prison time. Anger management issues. These are the easy-to-see faults. But let me tell you who I see.
This young man has decided to follow the Way of Love. He has announced his intention to forsake violence and choose kindness. Every day, he faces the choice to forgive and to turn the other cheek, instead of throwing a punch. Some days he walks away, and other days he fails.
Recently he came to me very upset. He said, “I f#*&’d up, Jamie. I punched him right in the mouth.” He shook his head in shame, so I asked him what happened. He told me a story of an antagonist coming at him again and again. “He just wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t help it. My fist had a mind of its own. It just flew out and punched him.”
I asked what happened next. “He dropped to the ground. Then he got up and took off.”
“And what did you do after that?” I asked.
“Nothing. I just stood there.”
“You didn’t chase him? You let him go?”
“Yeah. I just let him go.”
I smiled. “Dude, that’s progress!” I announced.
“But I hit him.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but you only hit him once. It used to be that you’d have beaten the crap out of him, and you would never have let him run away. That’s progress, my friend. You’re changing.”
He grinned. “Yeah. I guess that is progress.”
The day my friend was beaten this is what happened: a woman who is also part of our Community at Joe’s had come to hang out for a while. She is experiencing homelessness, and sleeps wherever she can find a place for the night. Sometimes a couch. Often outdoors in the weather. A few weeks ago, she was pushing her cart on the side of the road and was hit by a car. The driver didn’t even stop. A passerby called an ambulance.
She is still recovering from broken bones and contusions, but her most difficult struggle is an infection that has begun in her leg. Imagine trying to keep wounds clean, when you have no place to shower, no place to clean up. The hospital doesn’t keep patients after the critical period has passed. Now, she comes to Joe’s to have her dressings changed, essential oils applied, and we remind her to take her antibiotics.
The day my friend was beaten, several people were sitting on the front sidewalk smoking, when she mentioned that she was hungry and that she still had some food stamps on her card. He offered to walk to the convenience store to get some things for her, as he knew how painful it is for her to walk. She was grateful.
A few minutes later, ambulance and police cars raced down our street. She poked her head in the door and shouted, “Jamie, I think it could be @@@! He went down to the store, and he’s been gone too long. Will you go see who it is that’s hurt?!”
I jumped in my car and raced the short distance down the street. There he was, lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood. I pushed my way through the gathered crowd, caught the eye of one of the cops, and announced, “I know this guy. I have all his information.”
After a cursory investigation and half-hearted attempt to interview gathered witnesses, the policemen stood around chatting and joking with each other, while the paramedics rolled my friend into the ambulance. I asked what they were going to do about this, and they shrugged. “A couple of transients fighting with each other. Gang violence,” the officer in charge said to me. In other words, “Nothing. We will do nothing.”
I get it. The violence just is. The drugs—it just is what it is. Maybe it’s not even worth their time, effort and money to track down the culprit, and after discussion in church at Joe’s the next day, we in the Joe’s Community agreed together that we will look for ways to love the “enemy” who attacked our friend. Sigh. Enemy-love. Us for them means our enemy is “us.”
My heart for justice—not revenge, but that all things would be made right—aches. It’s an ache that we dreamers must embrace. The Dream of Love is God’s Dream, so we’re on pretty good ground in agreeing with God. :-)
Although I know that it’s only natural for those with power, privilege and authority to see a “transient” and “gang member,” I want to say that is not the whole story. It never is the whole story. There is always a story. And the story includes goodness, kindness and beauty that may be hiding in the mess of violence, crime and ugliness. A closer look—an opportunity to know one another—reveals the lotus growing in the mud. If we care to look for it.
Names have been withheld to protect the privacy of my friends.