The early morning sun lasers through closed blinds. I am awake and alive––thank you God! I get dressed quickly, skipping the shower, skipping the mirror––my hair is fine, it’s fine!––skipping breakfast, skipping everything because I’m ready to go, ready to get out, excited to see people. Ready to see friends.
I call Leon. “Leon, I have too much to do today, would you like to do it all with me? Yes, he says, I’ll roll with you. Leon spent years homeless, has only recently gotten off the streets. So he knows what’s up. I pick him up and we go visit Harley. For about 48 hours this past weekend I thought Harley was dead. We knock on Harley’s door. He answers. He’s not wearing a shirt. A tube dangles from his stomach. His throat is swollen from the cancer he refuses to treat. His skin is greying, and I feel that I should rescue this man from himself––this Harley who spent years living in the woods, making candles, laughing with me, refusing to wear pants even on the coldest days because he said it hurt his knees––but I know I can’t rescue him. I know he’s made up his mind. He’s dying. It’s over.
"I want to die with all my parts" he says, and Leon laughs. I don’t really get the joke, though, so I just stand in the doorway and look at the cancer in his throat––and I swear I see it spread, the little cancerous particles move from his throat into his head, expanding, hardening, establishing cancerous colonies, cities, taking over his body. I know that one day I will arrive at Harley’s apartment on 7th Street and he will not answer the door, and I will smell something I should not smell––the smell of blood having stopped flowing, of skin sinking. I expect this to happen soon.
Before I leave, I pray for Harley. Leon and Harley bow their heads, and I realize I have no idea what to say to God. I stammer through words. I am praying for healing, praying for God’s will, praying for everything I can think of. Give him peace, God, I say, establish your presence in this place, I say, because Harley has strange beliefs about God. We have had a million discussions about God, and still the beliefs are strange. So I pray for those to go away, fly away, and for the truth of Jesus to establish itself in Harley’s heart.
Next Leon and I go to Regina’s room. Regina lives in an old hotel that is falling apart.
The photographs look bad, but they don’t capture the reality of Regina’s home. Mold crawls along the walls, emitting an odor that crawls into your mouth and establishes itself in your throat, and then you begin to cough, and cough, and you feel like you may be dying, like you may have come into contact with some sort of plague. There is no running water. Regina has a bucket. A bucket. She takes her bucket outside and fills it up with water and, yes, now she can use the bathroom. Her apartment is worse than sleeping in a tent. Worse than homelessness. It is killing her. The mold, the odor, the black plague that is no doubt hiding in the walls, the asbestos, the whatever else that is surely lurking in her room, waiting to attack her.
"Let’s go," Leon and I say to Regina. So we go. We are in the car, we are riding, talking, doing what friends do.
Together we visit several other people. I watch as Leon and Regina minister to each other and to the people we meet with. They encourage people, lift them up, offer to pray for them. It’s beautiful. We visit a tent community in the woods. We visit friends on State line. We visit Central Mall and my laughter echoes through the entire length of the mall as I watch Leon and Regina sit in the massage chairs.
Leon keeps telling the chair to stop messing with his booty. He’s saying this out loud, and I cannot stop laughing. His entire belly is shaking, his eyes popping out of his head, and he’s saying whoo, whoo, whoo, leave the booty alone! Regina just smiles. A big smile. A beautiful smile. I should marry this chair, she laughs. She’s had men problems. Lots of men problems, and this chair, she says, will be nice to her, massage her every night. Everyone is laughing. We are always laughing. I love these people. They are my best friends.
We eat lunch with my family––my mom, nieces, nephew, and my wife and two little girls. We eat chicken. Regina is done with her food before Leon and I have even started. It’s awesome. We get cookies. We walk around the mall. We do whatever.
And then it’s over. Leon and I drop Regina off at her room. I drop Leon off. And I am driving home, the clock not yet at 1:30, and all I can do is thank Jesus for community, for His presence, for His promises, and beg Him to establish Himself in the lives at the camps, on the streets, wandering, waiting for what’s next.