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.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Walking under the Interstate

“Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals." - Margaret Mead

Herb Dimock writes "Institutions do not serve persons; Only persons serve persons."

Interstate 5 is not an institution. It is concrete, rebar, steel. It has no soul. Yet, it may be the single biggest provider of shelter in King County. There is no human face for Interstate 5, just the cold, loud roar of machines, and tires thumping over expansion joints.

And beneath, from the trash, in passing, a spark. A stuffed toy, abandoned on the edge of a homeless camp - one of many camps in that dismal inhospitable place.

This toy asks us a question: Is Interstate 5 the best we can do for sheltering a human being who was at one time comforted by a stuffed bear?

Apparently so. We allow this to happen, because we have closed up our hearts, our minds, our homes, our churches, our parking lots, our parks, our public buildings. Surely we will reap the whirlwind.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gary. Carpenter. Vet. Homeless.

Gary. He was almost always a problem for our homeless program. All of his adult life he had been a veteran, a drunk, and a carpenter. When he came to Operation Nightwatch for help, we felt a sense of dread. What sort of nonsense would he pull on us next? Punch a smaller homeless guy? Rearrange the expletives? Jump to the front of the line? Pilfer goodies?

Then, one night, I ran across him on the street. It was about 1:00 a.m. He was parked on a bench along 2nd Avenue in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. For once, he was relatively sedate. I sat down with him, and let him talk for once, without worrying about anything.

He had survived Vietnam, and witnessed intense cruelty, inhumanity, and evil. It changed him. The images flickered in his mind, the loss of friends, blood and gore that are always a part of war; the only way he knew to suppress this horror was to numb himself with drugs and alcohol.

Usually, about now in my stories, I give some insight, a universal truth, a spiritual nugget.

Maybe my takeaway this time is this: killing people is a lousy way to protect freedom, ensure economic security (think how Vietnam contributed to runaway inflation in the 1970s), resist evil.

It seems to me like the person who resisted evil most successfully was willing to endure evil at the expense of his life.

Meanwhile, in honor of Veteran's Day, I will treasure my memories of Gary, and ask God to grant him Peace, in this life and the next.