Street Stories

Weblog of Seattle minister to the homeless Rick Reynolds, Operation Nightwatch

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Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

Caring for human beings seems like the best use of my time, homeless or not.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Am I my brother's keeper?

"Listen; your brother's blood is crying out from the ground."

It’s 9:15 pm on a mild night in October. I’m out on the sidewalk chatting with homeless folks, trying to get knit hats on the bare heads of people waiting for food and shelter.

The line is peaceful, gentle kidding, conversational, and orderly. Except one guy. Everyone is watching him, as he paces back and forth in the parking strip, disconnected from people and reality.

Just about everything about the guy is off. He looks like he gave himself a haircut in a dark room. His stream of consciousness jabber is barely recognizable as English. He is restlessly running his hands up under his shirt as he paces.

There were a few muttered comments in line. “Whack job.” The entire line of homeless people looked at him warily.

“Here’s someone I need to talk to,” I thought to myself.

I positioned myself in front of the pacer, so he had to stop. “I’m Rick,” I said, sticking out my hand.

Egad. His hand was huge, beefy, muscular. Somehow, in and through the stream-of-consciousness jabber, a conversation took place. He quieted down. The pacing slowed, stopped. The jabber morphed into stories, of working in Alaska, and living with a son, but not any more.

In fact, I’m told, no shelter in town will let him stay any longer.

The conversation ends abruptly. He wanders off into the uncertain night.

It may be easy for you to shrug. "What concern is it of mine?" Sometimes turning away from a problem is as brutal as bludgeoning a younger brother to death.

The ground itself will give testimony to our failure to care.


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Why I got home at 3:30 a.m.

I have these stories in my head going back 28 years. Don't know where else to dump them.
A downtown hotel clerk called the Nightwatch office. He had two underage kids, a brother and a sister. He couldn't rent them a room, could I help.
"Sure," I said. "I'll be over and talk to them, but it won't be until 2:00 am when I get done here."
Here I am, sitting in the hotel lobby, talking to two very weary teenagers. This is their sad story.
"Mom & Dad left us at home for the weekend. We live in Maple Valley. We thought that since they left us alone, they wouldn't mind if we drove down to Portland to visit our friends. While we were in Portland, the engine on the family car blew up. So our friends put us on the bus to Seattle. But we got to Seattle too late to catch a Metro bus back to our house in Maple Valley."
Easy breezy. Get in the car.
It was a pretty quiet ride. I wish I could have heard their explanation to Mom and Dad the next night, to the question, "Where's the car?"

Friday, October 01, 2010

Who are you?

Person in distress:
you made my phone rattle
at 1:00 a.m.

It's not that 1:00 a.m.
is an ungodly hour
or that my dream
was so especially delicious.

I am distressed today,
because, realizing you woke me,
you refused to talk.

"Who ARE you?"

My question hung there
unanswered in the night.

I could have helped.
I would have helped
if you needed it.

I know who I am
at 1:00 a.m.
I am your friend
who will come to you.
That's what I do.
But, who are you?