(This is an excerpt from Beloved Chaos. “Chuck” in this piece died in his sleep on the back porch of Joe’s Addiction on May 24th, 2019. He died at home.)
Regularly, people in our Joe’s Addiction community must go and spend some time in jail. Most often it is because they cannot pay the fines and court costs associated with their crimes. A judge will allow them to “sit out” their fines, off-setting a dollar amount per day toward what they owe. Chuck committed his crime in another county, so when the marshals come looking for him, they take him to a jail about two hours away.
A few weeks later, Chuck shows up at Joe’s exhausted and teary. He has made his way back to Oklahoma City only to find that while he was away, his tent flooded. All of his possessions are ruined by mold. He slumps down into a chair across from me and starts to talk. “I know I’ll be all right. My stuff isn’t that important,” he says, “I’m just glad to get back here.” He details the saga of his return.
The county jail released him in the middle of the night. (This is common. The day’s clock ends at midnight, so they dump people out on the street.) He found a spot to sleep on the ground until daylight. Then he started walking. He went to two different churches, asking if they could help him buy a bus ticket back to Oklahoma City. Both told him it wasn’t in their budgets to do that kind of thing.
Chuck walked north along the shoulder of the freeway. He saw a sign that read, “Oklahoma City 95 miles,” and he thought, “Well, I’ll get there when I get there.” When night fell, he pulled out a flashlight. He was grateful the marshals had taken him with his full backpack. His heart raced, and he tried not to think about the snakes that might be in the grass. He wanted to walk on the asphalt, but the trucks flew by with such speed, he feared that even if one didn’t hit him, the gust of wind might blow him over.
He followed an exit to a truck stop, hoping he might catch a ride. A large truck painted with “Jesus Is Lord” on the side idled in the parking lot. He thought, “Surely this guy will help,” but the trucker said, “I’m not going to OKC. I have to be in Ada in an hour to drop this load.” He offered Chuck some money to buy dinner, and Chuck told him, “I don’t need your money. I just need to get home.”
Chuck pauses his tale. His eyes fill with tears, and he says, “I’m sorry. That’s all I wanted. I just needed to come home.”
After he composes himself, he starts telling me again. “The guy went ahead and bought me dinner. He even prayed for me. He was a real nice guy.” Chuck started out on foot again. As he neared the on ramp for the freeway, a truck pulled up next to him. The man who had bought his dinner called from the open window. “Chuck, Chuck. If you’re willing to ride with me to Ada and drop off this load, I’ll take you to OKC after!”
Chuck tells me what he told the driver of that truck as they rode the long way “home.” “If you’re ever in OKC, you’ve got to come to this coffee shop. Even better, if you’re there on a Sunday, you need to come to church. When you walk in the doors and you hear the music playing, you can just feel the love. You know this is where you belong.”
Joe’s Addiction has become a place where people who have lost their family have found a new one. Some have lost family due to death. Others, their families have rejected them because of crimes they have committed. Emotional pain of grief and rejection crimp and stymie our ability to live free and whole. We end up being less than fully human. Unconditional Love restores. It makes us whole again.