“Hi, it’s me...from group. Are you busy?”
“No. What’s up?”
“Do you want to meet for coffee or something?”
Before I answered, I sat there in stunned silence for a moment. This was a new experience for me. I’m not used to people calling me out of the blue on a Sunday afternoon to go have coffee. It’s not that I was too busy, nor did I have any place else that I needed to be anytime soon. It was just something new.
“Uhhmmm….sure. Where are you now?”
We set a place to meet at a Starbucks midway between where he was and I was and I cleaned up and got in the car for the short drive. As I drove, I wondered what he might want to see me about. He was definitely a man who was dealing with a lot of issues and I was glad that I had been able to help him over the past few weeks.
On Thursday night during our group, he mentioned to us that his unemployment had run out and that the trailer that he had been living in was no longer available. He was living in a “low rent” apartment until he was able to find a new place to live, but he did have a lead on a place. His car is in the shop and he isn’t sure when they will have it fixed for him and he can’t start his job at the golf course until he has transportation. The State was graciously providing him with $15 a month for food stamps, but that would hardly feed anyone for even a few days.
After group, I asked him if he could use a little help and after swallowing his pride, he accepted twenty dollars from me. As we walked down to our cars to leave, we visited for a moment about the lead he had a place to live and I offered to help him with his rent if it worked out and if his family wasn’t able to help him right now. He promised to call if he needed help. True to his word, he called on Friday and came by my work to pick up some money to pay for the initial rent on his room.
I heard from him again the next day. He was calling from a motel where he had found a bed for another night. His cell phone had been disconnected for non-payment and he had no money for food. A quick stop at the bank and I swung by his motel to drop the money off. As he opened the door to his tiny room, the odor of stale cigarette smoke was almost overwhelming. He offered me a cup of coffee, which I kindly refused. We shook hands and as he headed to his car (borrowed from his ex-wife) so he could go pay his cell phone bill, I walked back to my car and went about my day.
As I drove away, I reflected on how blessed I am. I could have found myself in the exact same place he was. Society isn’t kind to those who have served time in prison and in the current economy where jobs are difficult to find…they are even more difficult for a person with a record. But I am fortunate to have a strong support system of family and church which has provided me with a good job, a nice place to live and the love and support needed to make it during this valley of my life.
As we walked into the Starbucks on that Sunday afternoon, I bought us our drinks…a skinny mocha for him, a non-fat latte for me and we found a couple of comfortable chairs in the corner. There was a part of me that was wondering “what next”, but a bigger part of me that was just enjoying some company. For the next two hours, we simply visited. He talked about his family (one of 13 kids of an abusive, alcoholic father). He shared a story of reconciliation with his dad that occurred because of his arrest. We talked about the frustrations that we face as a result of our choices and the mutual commitment that we’re not going to let that lapse in judgment define our entire lives. He told me about the conversation he had with his dad that morning about “his friend” who is helping him right now to just survive and the advise that his dad gave him to accept the friendship. And I told him that he needed to consider me on the bottom of his “payback” list. His first concern when he started to get an income again was to pay off his treatment and make sure he has a roof over his head and food in the cupboard.
Before long, it was time to go; me to church and him to another appointment. I’ve never been one to just take the time to sit with a friend and simply visit. I’m not sure when he will call again, but I have a hunch that it will happen. And when it does, there will be no hesitation on my part. We’ll simply find a place, buy a cup of liquid caffeine, and spend however much time we have to enjoy the company of a friend.