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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Gift of Sarcasm

Under the “squeaky wheel” theory, one homeless guy persistently was distracting me as I was trying to coax a piece of junk formerly called a printer into some modicum of usefulness. It wasn’t working, and a roomful of restless, tired, and cranky homeless people were waiting to be sent off to various shelters downtown. In their defense, any middle-class group of weary travelers would pose the same headaches, if not more so.  After all, most homeless people have had all sense of privilege thrashed out of them along the way.

This night, the surging crowd and dark despair weighed everyone down. Even my usual chipper self was exasperated. The homeless dude in front of me was like a dripping faucet in the middle of a caffeinated nightmare. 

Finally, I snapped. My own frustration and ire was directed at him. “OKAY,” I said loudly. “I’M GOING TO STOP HELPING ALL THESE PEOPLE,” (can you see me waving my arms around?) “AND JUST TAKE CARE OF YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO MATTERS HERE.” 

I’m pretty sure I didn’t say any really bad words. I’m pretty sure I wanted to. But I do know that I was loud, and sarcastic, and hurtful. The gift of sarcasm is not God-given, pretty sure.

The squeaky wheel guy cut me down at the knees with one word.

He looked at me, turned up his nose, and said, “Hunh.” That was it.

It was the most devastating “Hunh” ever used against me. “Hunh,” meaning, “Here ’s the real you, Mr. Preacher Man. Sarcastic. Dismissive of us.”

I love this job, because homeless people and homeless situations have a way of cutting through the complex fluff we build around ourselves, to insulate and separate and categorize people. His body language and one word simply held up the mirror of reality,  so I could see myself with distressing clarity, for just an instant.  It was devastating.

I got his full attention, and apologized, loudly. The whole room needed to hear me eat crow, since they observed the offense. We parted friends.

Tonight, we launch a new chapter. Our 80-bed shelter for men starts paying rent in a new location. This is the first time in 17 years we’ve had to pay rent.  Pray, volunteer, give. 

Thank you.


Anonymous kae said...

A heartbreaking yes. We are, in fact, annoyingly, distressingly, human.

peace be with us all.

7:19 PM  

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