Harmless, stumbling, he left. Or so everyone thought. He actually only made it as far as the fencing club's concrete porch ~~ a porch that joins with the local cadet training facility. From his new perch atop a stack of old newspapers, those of us inside heard him loudly "conducting" as the cadets squeaked and pounded out their bagpipe tunes. Stomping his feet and hollering, "Play it boys! You've got 'er now!" this comedic conductor was swept away in their juvenile concert.
Tension inside continued to mount. Well-manicured women whispered angrily to each other; the facility secretary nervously fingered her cell phone, desperately wishing that the police would come and remove this inconvenient disruption. The club coaches eyed the door warily, wondering what should be done next.
Something needed to be done. So I went outside, onto the porch, and struck up a conversation with this "repulsive," "inebriated," "filthy" vagrant. He turned out to be as drunk, repellent, and dirty as I'd been led to believe. And he also turned out to be a man. A lost man. But just a man.
He raked his eyes unabashedly over my body ~~ a head to toe evaluation accompanied by an ugly leer. I caught his eyes with my own, silently insisting that he focus there. And then we talked. We talked about bagpipes and beer (his beer to sandwich ratio was ten to one he proudly explained when I asked if he'd eaten yet that day). We talked about home and passing the time. We talked about my dogs and my kids, and more about bagpipes and beer.
The club secretary was anxious about our odd conversation, and worried about the kids that would soon be exiting the building. How would they get to their cars? she fretted. How would they get past this awful drunkard?
I happened to have our family dogs along that evening, so I invited the gentleman (who's name, I'm ashamed to say, I never asked for) to come with me to the van to check on the dogs. He was thrilled and tramped along behind me with obvious anticipation. He was fully taken with our big, black pooches and contentedly stood alongside them while the kids made their way from the club to their cars.
As we stood, I had a maternal urge to clean the mucus from his soiled, red hoodie. I resisted, partially out of fear (What would he do if I touched him?), partially out of embarrassment (The club staff were already uncomfortable with my level of interaction ~~ I was embarrassed by their obvious disapproval). So we just talked. About beer and dogs and bagpipes.
And then an unmarked car arrived and my new acquaintance was sent on his way, arms flailing in protest, voice raised in exasperation.
And I don't expect I'll ever see him again.
But he has changed me, changed my children (who were on the periphery of this whole encounter...watching...watching...watching), and he's been the catalyst for a renewed wrestle with my Savior. I could have sat with that man all day. I could have offered him supper. I should most definitely have offered him supper. I ought to have offered him Christ. I needed to extend the respect, the honor, of wiping his coat clean.
I did none of those things. Maybe I will next time. There will always be a next time ~~ an opportunity to extend mercy and honor to a dishonored one. I am not satisfied with a gentle expression of kindness, however. If I, one who has the great privilege of knowing I am safe, loved, does not extend more of Jesus than a kind word, then what good I am? What good am I to the Creator in building His kingdom?
Certainly, "a cup of water" in His name is good and right. But is it enough? Is it enough, when we have been charged with spreading the Good News, healing, and setting people free? My Wednesday evening acquaintance needed more than a cup of water. He needed living water. I did not offer him any.
May I learn from the man in the red hoodie. May I, for Jesus' names' sake, do a little better next time.
If God is the ocean
Be a cup of ocean