Editors Note: the following reflection was written by an affiliate of the Order of Saint Augustine and was originally published in the newsletter Voices from Prison and the Edge, a publication of the Adeodatus Prison Ministry under the Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor.
Waiting in my car at the Walmart, I saw him approach from the side mirror. Instant decision…roll up the window or see what happens.
It was a brilliantly beautiful day and the store was brand new and for some reason I felt safe. Not sure why. A voice said take a chance and talk to him if he talks to you.
Tattooed and a little drunk he told me his story. He lived in a tent in the woods just beyond the parking lot, and had just survived one of the worst winters in his history. It was his third tent. One had blown away and another had been destroyed by him and a mutually panicked deer.
His name was Joey and he was 47 years old. He had lived in the woods for 2 years now. He was forbidden to beg from Walmart shoppers on the parking lot. So, we agreed if he was stopped, we were just friends having a conversation. His mother lived in a senior high rise overlooking the Walmart parking lot, but he was not allowed to visit her after being found sleeping in the lobby too many times. He hadn’t seen his father for decades and doubted they would even recognize each other. His father had died in his heart.
Before they closed the nearby Catholic church, Fr. Bob had let him sleep and shower in the abandoned convent, and even made dinner for him now and then. But that was all over now. Joey loved God, would read his bible in his tent until it got dark. He was currently into Corinthians. Once he went to a nearby Baptist church for bible study but forgot it wasn’t Sunday. The church was closed. Proud that he was drug free for 4 months Joey admitted he still needed vodka in the morning to control the shakes. Frustrated he lamented he just couldn’t take life much longer. The spider bites, the rain, the despair…it was all too much.
On April 5 he had remembered it was his birthday and cried bitterly. There were no cards, no cake, no recognition by anyone that he was alive. We talked about AA and places for help, but admitted he still loved alcohol too much to give it up. I told him unless he controlled it, in the end it would destroy him. Briefly, wistfully, he acknowledged the demon but then changed the subject.
Although I was ten minutes past giving him a few bucks, I was now drawn to give more even though he didn’t ask for it. I told him that God didn’t forget his birthday and gave him twenty dollars. He was someone, and he got a birthday present no matter what he did with it. His joy was intense. He offered his hand to shake farewell. I reluctantly touched his dirty insect bitten hand. I watched him disappear amongst the cars. I was not sure if I had done the right thing … give and feed his addiction, or just give him prayers and drive away.
Did I make his life better or did I hasten his end?
George Munyan O.S.A. Associate
“The present condition of the human race is symbolized by that man described in Scripture who was robbed by bandits and left lying half-dead in a ditch. He was ignored by the passing crowd until a passing Samaritan stopped and took care of him. His rescuer was a Samaritan, a foreigner far removed from him in nationality who became a neighbor by showing mercy. Our Lord Jesus wants us to understand that the Good Samaritan in the story represents himself.” – Saint Augustine (Sermon 171, 2).
Thanks for sharing your encounter with Joey. I have the same questions and doubts that you share at the end of your article. Thanks for your guidance, and that of St. Augustine.