I Don’t Like it When People Yell at Me
The first thing I notice are the big baggy pants that hang loosely off his small, wiry frame as he approaches my window in the thrift store parking lot. We’re out in smoky British Columbia this week visiting family and friends and looking forward to my wife running a half marathon on the weekend. I’m reading a book in the van while my wife snoops around inside. I perform a quick visual inspection of my guest. Teeth, missing or crooked; a nose that looks like it’s been broken one time too many; probably half a year’s worth of dirt under his fingernails. He looks like he’s in his thirties, but he could be younger than that. I know that years hang heavier off those who wander up to strangers in parking lots looking for help.
He’s shy and awkward. He won’t make eye contact. He can’t express himself very well. He stutters and stumbles over his words. He apologizes before he even asks the question that I know he’s come over to ask. He’s trying to get back to his hotel… or the bus station… or… He tried to buy a ticket but he didn’t have enough money and the people at the station started yelling at him. He doesn’t want the cops to come because they’re never very nice to him. He doesn’t have a criminal record, he says. I wonder about that last one. But then I wonder about why I wonder so easily about things like that.
I try to get him to just calm down and tell me what he needs. I try to make eye contact but he just stares at his feet. Is he looking for money? A ride to the bus station? A meal? He rambles on and on, drifting around the periphery of an actual request, but he doesn’t really say. In a rare moment of clarity, he says he hates roaming through parking lots asking strangers for help. He hates it when people get angry with him.
I offer to drive him to where he needs to go but I tell him I don’t really know where I’m going. I’m not from here, I say, and I don’t know my way around this town. He says he can walk to the bus but what he really needs is some bus money. He’s trying to get back to his reserve on northern Vancouver Island. He came here with his cousins and his sister, he says, but they took off one night and he doesn’t know where they went. He’s on his own and he doesn’t like it here in this city. He wants to go home.
“How much would it cost you to get back home?” I ask. He shuffles his feet and says, “Well, I got a few dollars, but I need… It’s just that… I don’t like asking… I don’t like it when people get angry…” I look directly at him. “How much?” He mumbles, “If I had twenty dollars I would have enough to get home.” I think about that for a minute. Twenty bucks. That’s about what it costs our family to get an ice-cream cone on the drive to summer camp. Or a few beers on a patio some pleasant evening. Or a good deal on a few books online. Or a tank and a half of gas on my motorcycle. Or a night out at the movies (if I’m disciplined enough to avoid the snack line). Or any number of things that I don’t have to think too long about before opening my wallet for.
I’m well-acquainted with the imaginative moralistic gymnastics that so naturally precede the dispensation of good will in situations like this. What if they’re lying… what if they’ll use it for this or that destructive habit… What if I’m being “taken advantage of?” This last one has always struck me as among the more ironic questions I could ask. Whatever the outcome encounters like these might produce, the “advantage” arrow is surely always and only pointing in one direction.
I open my wallet and hand over a twenty. Surprisingly, I find myself not really caring what he does with it. It doesn’t really matter to me if right now he’s walking away from the bus station or if he’s buying some cheap booze or shooting up under the bridge or whatever. If my twenty bucks is financing a few moments of chemically-induced respite from an isolated and fearful existence, well, so be it. I suppose I can stomach being “taken advantage of,” if that’s what we’re calling it.
We sit in my van and talk for a while. I ask him his name. “Jeff,” he says. I imagine the long train of events that might have led to Jeff trudging around a hot parking lot all by himself in a strange city, reduced to asking strangers for a few dollars. It’s not difficult to spin a familiar tale of abandonment, addiction, poverty, racism, and dysfunction of all kinds. It’s not hard to imagine that Jeff has experienced more anger than kindness in his handful of decades on the planet. I think about how many times he’s said something like, “I just don’t like it when people get angry and yell at me” over the last fifteen minutes. It makes me want to cry.
I ask him if I can give him a ride to the bus. “I don’t know the city,” I say, “but I can figure it out if you help me.” He smiles. “No, I can just walk. I don’t know the roads for driving but I know where I’m going once I get past that overpass.” We talk briefly about his home on Vancouver Island. He asks me what Alberta is like. Eventually, we get out of the van. “Take care, Jeff,” I say. As if “care,” like “advantage,” was there for the taking.
He walks briskly away in the direction of the bus stop, his baggy pants dragging along under each step of his falling apart shoes. Before he gets too far, though, he stops, then takes a few steps back toward me. He looks me in the eye for the first time. “Hey, what’s your name.” “Its Ryan,” I reply. He comes back, extends a hand for shaking, and says, “Thanks, Ryan. And God bless.” I smile back at him and return the blessing. Maybe, I think to myself, “blessing” is different than “adantage.” It’s there for the taking and for the giving.
This was lovely, Ryan Dueck. Made me cry. Thank you. Love, Alison
Thanks for a wonderful reminder of “blessing”
What a lovely way to start my morning. thanks, Ryan
I love that he asked your name and shook your hand and blessed you. More than $20.00 was exchanged. Thanks for sharing! So beautiful!
Thank you all for these very gracious words.
If the money was used for heroin, how do you think God’s blessing is central to the story?
I have no way of knowing for certain how the money was used. I do, however, think that God is capable of extending blessing irrespective of the moral performance of those who wish it upon one another.
Of course God’s blessing (Thank God lol) isn’t dependent upon anyone’s moral performance but that isn’t the question. What I’m asking is, if Jeff was not being honest with you due to the ravages of addiction and was using the “bus ticket” story….one I sadly hear all too often where I am located… as a means of getting enough money from you to feed his addictions, do you think, God’s blessing is present in his actions or your response?
If God’s blessing is an expression of divine will…..”thy will be done on earth”…would it be His will that Jeff be addicted, homeless and a deceitful beggar in order to maintain his addictions? Would God look at your response to the circumstances you encountered and deem them as a right response and expression of his will?
It is my belief that we cannot help effect God’s will through human reponses of pity mixed with guilt. We respond in this half hearted way, all the time. Me, you…most of us…and the tragedies of life, like Jeff, continue to pile up.
This is not God’s will. This is not a sign of blessings.
Christians have abdicated their responsibility to nurture and care for their brothers and sisters. We have made this the job of governments and social services that, in today’s world, openly disassociate themselves from the divinity of Christ. How can these institutions, then reflect divine will? How can these institutions bring blessing?
Yes, you cannot know what Jeff actually did with the money you gave him but you outline enough concern in your story to indicate that it would be reasonable to assume that you were being deceived. God cannot bless dishonesty. His, mine or yours. If the light of truth is not present in our efforts, God cannot bless them…..
One final thought, Ryan and I speak this with affection and an assumption that you are personally untouched by the ravages of addiction. Please do not allow yourself to belief that, “chemically induced respite” is a viable option. Addiction is slavery and destroys lives. The spirit of Satan, of death and destruction, is the foundation of addiction. However much you were moved by pity for Jeff and who wouldn’t have been based on your experience with him, don’t enable his addiction. Don’t assist him in death.
Separation from Christ, his self worth and his dignity are what really ail him and his addictions will keep him that way until physical death finally comes.
I think that God’s blessing is present whenever human beings try, in their limited, fallen, imperfect ways, to follow Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:12:
Thanks so much for sharing this,Ryan. I’ve met Jeff many times in many different places and I can vouch for his condition.
Bingo! We are in agreement. 🙂 I’m with you, Matthew 7:12, all the way! 🙂
I’ve been something akin to a, Jeff, though not his material destitution. Addictions will follow me to the end, I suppose. They just won’t catch me anymore!! Ha ha….
Thinking from a sober perspective about what it is that is right to want for someone, when they are trapped in addictions, is the first step.
Would any of us from this perspective be happy with filthy clothing, broken shoes, ill health, malnourishment, homelessness and a life of disillusion? Looking only for another day of chemical respite?
I tell you with certainty that daily addiction is a living death, I wouldn’t wish it on Donald Trump… Well maybe for a couple of months in the hope of teaching him humility…
If we were truly living the Christian example, “Jeffs” would be healed, redeemed and made new again.
Meth clinics, meager social assistance that without control management often gets spent on the very substances that harm, would not be tolerated. Us being moved to pity to indulge someone with nothing more than another fix, would not be tolerated.
We are called to save, to fix, to make new again. Through the power of the Holy Spirit many of us believe this to be possible, yet we do not have the courage to abandon our own comforts so as to truly live a Gospel life.
“Jeffs” aren’t being judged by the Lord and condemned. Only a heartless fool would think so.
What the Lord is judging is the response of those who are well. Those who claim affiliation with him…”whatever we do for the least of his”…
You and I and the countless millions who all claim affiliation with Christ and who all know material comfort will be the ones held accountable for tragedies like Jeff.
At this stage of the game for him, the sin is no longer his. It is ours.
Yes, I think you’re right, Paul.