Just another homeless guy. Likely judged by most who see him on the streets and assume he's a drug addicted alcoholic who shouldn't be helped or humanized because he deserves what he gets.
A friend. A regular. A favorite. Known by those at Network, staff and clients. In fact, when you go to the Network website, his smiling face, filled with laughter, is first to greet you. You'll see him in the Network video, sunglasses on, earbuds in, head shaking to the music we can't hear.
A brother. Someone with family who cares.
Not a nameless face with a cardboard sign on the street corner. He has a name, he has family, he has friends.
Tonight I received this text,
"Hey friends, sorry to interuupt your Friday evening... Something ugly has happened to one of our regulars and favorites..."
From one of the directors over at Network, linking us to a news story telling us of Mike's arrest and violent encounter with Denver police, resulting in him having a "massive heart attack." He is now on life support in intensive care at Denver Health.
I could say so many things. I could talk about how horrible it is that our system is not set up to care for the mentally ill. "According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25% of the homelesspopulation in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness. In comparison, only 6% of Americans are severely mentally ill."
We could talk about police brutality. Folks whose job is to protect and serve, and yet often are the broken people in this deeply broken system acting out the violence rather than protecting from it. And I could go on because this incident ties all my worlds together, with this police violence against a black man being exactly what the Black Lives Matter movement is talking about, and the lack of care for the poor and marginalized.
Oh I could talk about these issues, these deep injustices and violences against humanity (against all of humanity, the oppressor and the oppressed are both suffering violence). My heart is so broken and so longing for the healing of this world.
But tonight, I'm just overwhelmed by sadness.
We often live in multiple worlds, say our work world from 8am to 5pm and then our "lives" with family, friends, hobbies, and such. We can bounce back and forth, leaving work at work and not letting it affect our lives.
But relationships don't work that way. You can't turn them off and stop caring, because there's something so deep in your soul connected with the people you care about, you can't compartmentalize them, separate the worlds.
And I'm tired of being expected to turn it off. To turn off the sorrow at injustice, the worry for my homeless friends, the heartbreak at the racism plaguing our world.
I cannot compartmentalize the tragedies.
I know it's hard to understand, because for me, my time spent with the homeless isn't just volunteering. It's not me doing a good thing so I can feel good about myself because I helped someone. It's time spent with friends, it's the place I want to be.
When I get to see Alan or Jerry at church on Sunday, I'm overjoyed. When I see a friend pitching their tent outside or flying a sign on the street corner, I struggle to hide the tears welling in my eyes.
Sometimes, I don't know how to just go on living, to not be constantly affected by the tragedies. There are weeks where I'm filled with hope, there are weeks where the heaviness of the stories I hear weigh me down.
And it's like I'm expected sometimes to just turn it off. As if I don't know the things I know, haven't seen the things I've seen, don't care in the ways I care. Like I can choose moments to exist in a world that isn't deeply affected by the brokenness all around, the brokeness that so many do choose to simply never see.
Like it's so hard for me to go downtown at night to just hangout or have fun. I see folks on the streets, in the cold, trying to find a place to sleep. And I'm out to drink a little and laugh a lot with friends and go back to my warm bed and privileged home. And often people don't even see them, and they're all I can see.
Seared in my mind, people and their things strewn across the sidewalk outside Samaritan House.
How do I just go on with my life when my heart is breaking and I can't just turn off all the tragedies?
I remember going downtown once with a friend. We were wandering around and found a bar to check out. There was a man with a cardboard sign sitting on the sidewalk outside the place. We got to the bouncer, pull out our IDs. All I could think about was how I was going to spend $5-7 on a drink, when this guy is hungry and in need. So I walked away from the bouncer and gave the guy the cash I had, then went back to get my ID checked. I think the young guy's name was Roger, he's all I could think about.
And so tonight, when I get that text. When I learn a friend is on life support. That his mental illness, not understood or cared about, likely affected the cops interactions with him, ending in the police enacting violence and Mike having a heart attack. When I learn this, how do I just go on with my Friday evening plans like nothing has happened? There's nothing I can do, except sit beside Jesus and give Him my burdens. But the heartbreak is still so real.
Some days, the world just feels so heavy.
That doesn't mean I cry myself to sleep every night and fight back tears every moment of the day. There is hope for this broken, wounded world.
But the world still feels heavy, and the work is finding the balance between reality and restoration.
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"[Network] is the living room of Christ. It is a place where we communicate dignity to those who don't experience much dignity in the city."