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You Don’t Know Me

He sits over in the corner of the little restaurant on the #3 highway that a friend and I sometimes meet at to talk about God, life, pastoring. He is wet and dirty, just like the weather outside, a ball cap pulled down over long black hair, a wispy moustache straining and stretching over snarling lips. He’s agitated, clearly. He’s equally clearly very, very drunk. He blurts out incoherent words every now and then. Sometimes he pounds on the table. One time when I look over he’s leaned forward, face down on the table. It looks like he’s passed out or fallen asleep. I so desperately wish that he wasn’t an Indian, that he wasn’t providing greedy ammunition for all the toxic stereotypes that swirl around our area. But he is. And he is. Christ have mercy.

He wandered in off the highway, apparently. Trying to get to Newfoundland. Or was it Manitoba? The manager is doing his best, seating him off in the corner. He’s seeing about getting him some food. All around the patrons sit quietly, anxiously, picking away at their lunch, wondering what this guy is going to do. A few kids look over curiously. Feet shuffle. Throats clear. Forks and knives scrape across nervous plates.

All of a sudden he’s awake again, hand swinging around wildly in front of him. He stands up and unleashes a stream of vitriol. I can’t understand a lot of what he says and I don’t know who he’s yelling at, but I remember one refrain: You don’t know me. You don’t know me. You don’t f***in’ know me.

The manager returns. “Hey, let’s see if we can find you somewhere better to sit.” He takes him somewhere out back. The man trudges along behind him, a confused kind of half-grin on his face. I hear a door open and close. The manager returns. He pours a cup of coffee, grabs a few sugars, heads out back again. A few minutes later he brings him a plate of food. Maybe he can eat, calm down, sober up, I think. Maybe this can have a decent ending.

A few more minutes pass. All of a sudden I hear ominous sounds from out back. Crashing, banging, yelling. The manager decides that enough is enough and he has to go. He escorts him out of the building. A few other men follow them to make sure everything is ok. A palpable sense of relief returns to the place. We return to our lunches, our conversations about God, life, pastoring….

I look out the window and see the man wandering around in circles, wearing out his grimy blue Asics runners He’s yelling and swinging his fists at the air, like he’s fighting against an unseen enemy. He begins to punch the exterior wall of the restaurant. He wanders off again… Somewhere in the direction of Newfoundland… Or Manitoba.

I stare blankly out the window for a few seonds. I think of the man from the country of the Gerasenes in Mark 5, the man who lived among the dead, the man that nobody could restrain, the man that was always howling and cutting himself with stones, the man whose demons were Legion. I wish for a healer to summon this Legion and for a herd of swine to bear the demons away. I wish that this man did not have to howl and hurt himself like this, that there weren’t so many unseen enemies for so many to fight.

I pay for lunch and hop in my car. Not far down the road, I see an RCMP cruiser. It’s no great mystery what he’s doing here, I suppose. I see a head with a ball cap over black stringy hair being lowered into the back seat. I wonder exactly whose sins are being borne away in the back of that cruiser.

I told my son this story over dinner last night. He was pretty quiet throughout, but in the end he simply asked, “Why do you think he was swinging at the air?” “I don’t know,” I responded. “Maybe he just felt like the universe was against him.” My son paused for a few seconds. “Yeah, I get that.” I looked at him for a few puzzled seconds. “What, you feel like the universe is against you sometimes?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said, as he munched on his pizza, as if he were stating the most obvious thing in the world. “Don’t you?”

Now it was my turn to pause. I had to be honest. “No, I don’t. Not really.”

I thought back to lunch.

You don’t know me. You don’t know me. You don’t f***in’ know me!

No, I don’t. Not really.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cheryl O'Donnell #

    So true – we really don’t know people. How much better would our world and our relationships be if we were willing to step out of our comfort zones and be brave enough to start conversations that matter.

    April 26, 2017
    • Indeed. Thanks, Cheryl.

      April 27, 2017
  2. Your son’s pensiveness is encouraging. The man sounds as if he were immersed in the fight of his life, while the diners were concerned with stereotypes and lunch. Perhaps he was telling his demons he was not what they say he is. Perhaps he was swinging at those spirits to back up and leave him alone. Perhaps he was trying to salvage some of his own identity. Perhaps he could have benefited from a prayer.

    April 27, 2017
    • Paul Johnston #

      Tell it like it is, LaShawnda. 🙂

      April 27, 2017
    • “The fight of his life.” What an apt phrase, LaShawnda, and true on multiple levels. Thanks.

      In reflecting on this experience over the past few days, I regret that I didn’t try to do more. My friend and I prayed for him, certainly, but it didn’t feel like much. Perhaps it was more than we knew. I admired the way the manager tried to do what he could—a hot meal, a cup of coffee, room to try to sober up. But I wonder in hindsight if there were things that others of us could have done so that the end game wasn’t the back of a police car. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t. He was in a state that made helping difficult, but perhaps not impossible. I honestly don’t know.

      April 27, 2017
      • Thanks for your response, Ryan. I don’t think we, as Believers, have all the right answers or moves. I do think we, as People, have the capacity to open ourselves to others in need in whatever way we are able to in the moment we’re confronted with the need. Sometimes that openness is action (the manager). Other times it may be a word (prayer). Yet other times it could simply be acknowledgment of the needy person’s presence and struggle, i.e. let them know you see them/they’re not invisible (eye contact, a nod, a smile, etc).

        I live in NYC and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encountered asking for food or money. Or how many sad/tragic stories I’ve heard about lost limbs, extremities, homes, family members, etc. The world can be a horrible place with horror being all some people see. I know I can’t help everyone. And honestly, I don’t even try to. Some people get a nod. Some get conversation. Some get a “God bless you” as I walk pass. Some get “Sorry, I have nothing to give.” Others have gotten my last dollar or a pocket full of change. Some have gotten meals for themselves, their families and even food out of my own grocery bag. I don’t remember all the people I’ve acknowledged or failed to acknowledge. But by and large, when I’ve had nothing to give (money or food), nearly everyone has thanked me for saying even that.

        All this to say, we can only do what we can do in the moment we’re in. However, if we are open to doing more, the Spirit (or Universe) will certainly guide us in being a blessing for those around us.

        Who knows, perhaps your prayer caused the police to pull him off the street for the night. 😉

        May God continue to bless you, Ryan. Thank you for sharing.

        April 27, 2017
      • Thanks for this, LaShawnda. I appreciate the wisdom of your words and your kind encouragement.

        April 28, 2017
  3. Tanya #

    “I wonder exactly whose sins are being borne away in the back of that cruiser.”
    That line hit me like a tonne of bricks. Thank you Ryan for this post.

    April 27, 2017
  4. micki #

    i understand him better than i want to…

    April 28, 2017
    • I’m very sorry to hear this, micki. Perhaps it sounds hollow—just words drifting through the ether—but I pray that the peace of Christ would protect and preserve you, surround and sustain you always.

      April 28, 2017
    • Paul Johnston #

      Hi, Micki. I’ve struggled most of my adult life with drug and alcohol addictions. The only way I’ve been able to succeed against them is by taking personal responsibility for my situations and depending on God. Through the faith He provides me and the people He sends me.

      The action that is most successful for me, is fasting. I fast from substances, Monday through Thursday (4 day fast). I have a single day of fast, Friday and another single day of fast, Saturday. As is Catholic custom, Sunday is a day of celebration, free from fast, and I am free to decide.

      For whatever reasons,….I’m pretty sure I know most of them but to dwell on them always invites negative spirits… fasting for God is more motivating to me, then protecting myself from self harm.

      Forgiveness is the key…”Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others who trespass against us”

      I could say more about a specific prayer regimen that I believe would be of great comfort to you but it would require your assent and the first names only, of 5 people (more if you think it so) who you believe, you need to forgive more fully. 🙂

      One last thing about faith. It is God’s gift to you. When you find it insufficient it is good to call on God for more. We need never depend on ourselves for faith, that is the trick of the deceiver, to make us think so.

      Ask for, demand when necessary, and God will never disappoint you.

      May 1, 2017

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