I didn’t know what to say

A few days ago we were on the streets greeting people with coffee and hot chocolate in the early morning. It’s my favorite hour of the entire week. So many wonderful people and stories. And no way to predict what’s going to happen. Or be ready for it.

So we’re talking to a man under the Steele Bridge. He’s waking up with little more than a blanket and a piece of cardboard to sleep on. His hands are shaking as he takes a cup of hot coffee. He starts to talk.

The story unwinds quickly, though it’s not rehearsed. It’s fresh and emotional and comes gushing out. He’s just gotten out of the hospital after a grand mal seizure. He’s talking about how rough it is for him right now. His stuff was stolen while he was gone. He’s struggling with adapting to this new twist but he’s already trying to survive cancer and he’s HIV positive. He looks at me and says, “And I’m only 34.”

I reacted without really thinking. I had no answers, no nice words to make things better. I had only the first thing to come to my head: I bet no one wants to touch him. And just like that I’m shaking and then holding his free hand. No words. No “Jesus loves you” or “I’m sure things will start looking brighter.” Fact is I wasn’t prepared and there was nothing I was ready to speak.

Looking in his eyes I see the same struggle I’m having – holding back tears. He looks at our hands, then back to my eyes. He nods and then a smile crosses his face. “Thanks. For the coffee, too.”

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