(Excerpt from Beloved Chaos. “Chuck” died in his sleep on the back porch of Joe’s Addiction on May 24th, 2019. He died at home.)
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They told him to load the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and to empty them when they finished washing. Chuck is a bit OCD, and it bothered him that sometimes dishes came out with cooked-on-crusties.
He pulled up his sleeve and extended his arm toward me. Tracks marked the inside of his arm. He pulled up the other sleeve and swiped his fingers over the red places.
Now here he was, four years later, and looking lots of years older. I went to him and said, “Malcolm! It is so nice to see you! We have missed you!” I hoped for a hug, but he put out his hand. I shook it and invited him to sit down at a table with me.
He’d stand on the front sidewalk and smoke a cigarette, and he’d talk. Not to other customers. To himself.
“Went and knocked up some other woman. Got hisself some other kids. But we was his first childs. He just left. How do you do that?!”
Tears welled up in his tough-man eyes, and he said, “They beat my other cat to death. I couldn’t let this one die.”
But sometimes the mountain of failure and shame is just too big, too hard to climb, and the path is impossible to trek alone.
I didn’t know Melvin when he committed his original crime. I do know that he was twenty-two when he was convicted. How many of us did stupid stuff when we were young adults?
He was filthy. Dirt and grime in every orifice. Hair matted in unintended dreadlocks. His clothing reeked of bodily fluids. Immediately it became clear that he has not been taking his medication.
A thin, fragile-looking women lay on each one. A volunteer sat next to one bed, holding a nebulizer to a woman’s nose and mouth, helping her to breathe. Another volunteer massaged the hands and arms of a woman who lay completely still. Another combed the tangled hair of a frail and tiny lady.
We rode the train past mountains of garbage, the waste of millions that for the “least of these” is home. We visited Sonagachi, the Red Light District of Kolkata, where over 10,000 women live as prostitutes
When the time came to open the Free Toy Store, William said, “I want to help.” We told him, “Everything is taken care of. It’s okay. You don’t need to do anything but sit and rest.” Gruffly, he said, “No. I have to do this.”
Then a toothless, crazy lady who sits on the front row and is usually on some other planet suddenly raised her hand and yelled over the din of voices. “Are we talking about turkeys? I can bring a turkey?!”—And I lost it! Everything was out of my control—the Thanksgiving Dinner AND my emotions.
He resists my scoldings when he requests sugary sweet masala chai and tells me that “He’ll eat whatever the hell he wants to. He’s a grown man, and “ain’t nobody gonna tell him what he can and can’t eat.”
The Food Pantry at Joe’s is an amazing experience every week. As we give out the groceries, we often get to hear people’s stories, sometimes weep with them, and many times pray with them. Volunteers serve in all these ways, and then carry the groceries out to a car, stroller or shopping cart—whatever means of transport they have.
Little Mary was a prostitute—not the street-walker type—well maybe sometimes, but not the leopard skin, mini-skirt and high heels type. For Mary, sex was a currency, as is the case for so many women living in poverty.
While I hear Churchians talking about how “the poor are poor because they make poor choices,” I daily watch single mothers working at the drudgery of minimum wage jobs that just cannot pay the bills, and daily facing the temptation to dance (and more) in the strip clubs on our street
In my mind, I started yelling at God, “You can’t send me people like this, and then not give me some way to help them! What do I do?!”
I looked up from wiping the counter to see a man standing on the front sidewalk, arms outstretched with a thermos jug gripped tightly in his hands. He was shaking from head to toe. Several of us ran to the front door to meet him. He just stood there mumbling incoherently and trembling, holding out his thermos. It was empty.