I was driving home on a cold November evening, when I pulled up to a stoplight at a busy intersection. I saw a familiar face: a homeless man whom I’ve claimed as a friend of mine. His name is David.
He lives outside in our city, making the rounds in a 4-mile radius. He shows up in my McDonalds sometimes, when he has enough money for an ice cream cone. His mind fails him most days, and he comes in and out of lucidity. Sometimes he’s shouting at the poor employees about the toilet paper situation inside McDonalds, and sometimes he’s friendly and gentle and kind. I see him a couple of times a month, and something about this rough guy has wormed into my heart.
If you read Let’s Pretend We’re Normal, then you’ve met David, too. I wrote him into that book on the day when we saw him at McDonalds, after I had had a very difficult day of single parenting and I whisked the boys off for Happy Meals and Playlands. David sat nearby, and he struck up a conversation with Tucker about Heisman trophy winners.
My children were a little surprised by my open willingness to have a conversation with someone who looked so scary, and it was my opportunity to show them that kindness is a choice. As we cleared the table, David said to my boys, “Hey, you guys take good care of you mom, okay? And let me tell you this before you go… Rejoice in the Lord, always. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.” He had quoted Robb’s life verse to us. And I felt like I had encountered a messenger straight from heaven.
David has been run hard in his lifetime, but he has things tucked safely into his mind: Heisman winners and the book of Philippians.
So on this cold night when I saw David standing on the sidewalk by the stoplight, I reached into my purse for a five dollar bill. I rolled down my window as I approached.
“This is for you, David,” I said.
He looked up at the sound of his name. He walked over to me with his walker. “God bless you, ma’am. Do you think you could please give me a ride to that McDonalds over there?”
It was three blocks away. Across six lanes of traffic. The light had turned green. Cars around me were moving forward. But something about this rough guy has wormed into my heart. “Sure, David. Let’s get you there.”
I put on my emergency flashers, I opened the hatch of my SUV, and I lifted his walker into the back. It doesn’t fold, so I laid it on its side. I helped him into the front seat, and I closed the door. The light turned from green, to yellow, to red again, and would you believe this? Nobody behind me blew the horn. Everyone was patient as I helped an old man into my car.
When I got in on the driver’s side, David said, “Thank you, ma’am. When you rolled down your window, I thought it was Bette Midler herself.”
Ah, my celebrity doppelganger makes an appearance once again. “My dad has always said I look like a young version of her,” I said.
“The Rose,” he said. “Just remember in the winter, far beneath the winter snow, lies the seed, that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes a rose.”
“I love that song,” I said, pulling through the intersection. “What can you tell me from Philippians?”
“Oh, you know Philippians? It’s my favorite. Rejoice in the Lord, always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
“Where did you learn those verses?” I asked, merging toward McDonalds.
“Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Back in high school.”
“Oh, yeah? And what was your sport?”
“Lots of them. Hockey. Baseball. Diving.” I remembered that he was once a cliff diver at our famous Casa Bonita, but he doesn’t remember telling me. He doesn’t remember me at all, actually.
We pulled into McDonalds. I took the liberty of parking in the handicapped space by the door, since I’d be unloading his walker from the back. I met him on the passenger side, pushing the walker right up to the open door. “It’ll take a me a few minutes,” he said. “This broken hip takes some time.”
“You take your time, my friend.” I held his walker still so it didn’t roll away.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Well, I’m originally from Ohio.”
“Ohio,” I repeated, thinking he hadn’t heard me.
“Yes, what part of Ohio?”
“The Akron-Canton area.”
“Ah, the Football Hall of Fame.”
“And Firestone Golf Course.”
“You’re familiar with the area, then.”
“I was a golf caddy for the Golf Tournament there, 1994-2002.”
(I was waiting tables at TGI Friday’s that week in 2001. Considerable tips for waiting tables when the PGA tour is in town.)
I held the door open as he came inside. “What can I buy you for dinner, David?”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.”
“But if I did, what would you like?”
“A chicken sandwich, please.”
“Done. You get settled in at your table.”
I bought him the sandwich, and I slipped in a gift card for next time. I carried it to his table.
“Here you go, my friend,” I said, setting his meal on the table, thinking of the verses I know about offering a glass of water in the name of Jesus.
“Let me tell you one more before you go,” he said. “Colossians 3. Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is. Seated at the right hand of God.”
“That’s one of my favorites, David. I’m glad I saw you tonight.”
“See you later, Akron. ”
I laughed. “My name is Trish, by the way.”
“I’ll call you Bette,” he said.
“Deal. See you later, my friend.”
Like I said, I know it wasn’t safe to load a homeless man and his walker into my car on a cold November night. And neither my parents nor Peter were thrilled to hear the update.
But it was only for three blocks. And it was David.