Wednesday, April 29, 2009

79 plus 7 cross outs

I was sitting in my rocking chair this evening, writing today's names in my spiral notebook. I had two new names to add from my weekly visit at the homeless shelter: a young man named Charles who appeared more than a little dazed but was teaching himself calculus, nonetheless; and Spider, a 40-ish woman with an assortment of tattoos and a penchant for saying, "I know, right?"

I flipped back and back and back and back to the first page in my notebook and began counting the names. I came to 79 names plus seven cross outs. I looked at each name and conjured up a face for nearly each one, based on the physical descriptions and "quirks" I had recorded on the page. Of the cross outs, some moved on to independence, some transferred to another shelter, some fell back into their addiction and are somewhere "out there," and one passed away.

Due to all the rains yesterday, the kitchen was out of commission today. So I sat at a picnic table in the courtyard, ignored the smoke being blown in my face, and tried to carry on authentic conversations with Spider and Charles and Earl and Marlin.

I called out "hello's" to others who passed by while I passed my time at the picnic table -- Terry and Aundra and Mark and Richard and Katy and Sharon and Anne and Shannon and Bill and Charles, to name a few.

Spider eventually got bored and left. Charles didn't move away, but his "don't talk to me" body language was screaming volumes. Earl and Marlin got into an argument about raising kids, of all things.

Apparently, they are roommates. They are both in their 60s. They have both served time. Marlin just got out after quite an extended sentence and wears an ankle bracelet and monitor around his waist. They also both have sons who either have served time or are currently in prison.

The argument started because Earl was explaining to me why he doesn't talk to his son, who is in prison in Amarillo. "When he lived three houses away from me, he could have talked to me if he wanted to..." I was trying to find a gentle way of challenging Earl on this less-than-unconditional love attitude, but then Marlin shot back, "The apostle Paul says train up a child in the way he should go." (I confess in a moment of weakness, I corrected Marlin, That was a Proverb, not Paul)

(He ignored me and continued) "Kids are like horses. If you train 'em right, they do what they're supposed to do."

The implication, of course, is that Earl had not properly trained his son. And THAT'S when the shouting started.

I eventually distracted Marlin into a separate conversation in which he felt determined to tell me everything I apparently didn't understand about Jesus. But at least it allowed Earl to calm down.

Ultimately, I put my hand on Marlin's shoulder, who was one Bible-thump short of a full-blown sermon, and interjected, "Listen Marlin, we're going to have to continue this conversation another day..."

I chatted briefly with Steven on the way out, who wanted to tell me the secret to washing all your clothes together without ruining them: Put salt in the water! I thanked him for his suggestion, told Anthony at the gate to have a nice day, and left.

And that's today's interaction with the 79 plus 7 cross outs.

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