I ran away one day when life overwhelmed me, down by the creek where I often go and I met him there, this scraggly black man who just didn’t belong there. He was something urban, off the streets of a big city, standing there cursing himself, homeless, unrooted, likely entwined with meth.
I would have simply given him a wide berth in the city, stepped over him like a fallen log, but there by the creek in the early morning hours everything became very surreal and I felt him so powerfully, that sense of not belonging, parts of him not fitting in any more than he fit in with the physical surroundings of my little rural sanctuary by the creek.
It hurt so much, it just hit me like a punch in the stomach, the kind that just leaves you retching, and so there I was dry heaving while moving towards him, calling out, “are you okay,” no longer sure if I was speaking to him or to myself. I startled him and he stepped back quickly, on the defense now, whispering softly, “I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay” like a mantra he could wrap around himself.
“I am not, I am not okay at all,” I stated plainly, but I did not say the part about how I was not okay because something within him had just punched me in the stomach.
He turned and ran and I let out this little plaintive wail, “Please don’t leave me,” a child’s cry really, a premonition that echoed back at me months later. Please don’t leave me, as if I needed him more than he needed me.
His name was Mike. They found him hanging in a tree a few weeks ago. No one knows how long he’d been there, likely suicide. He rejected me that day, left me behind by the creek, left me with nothing but my dark gallows humor, reminding me that Mike is now the third man I once needed, I once pleaded with, that simply went and hung himself in a damn tree.
Suicides make me angry, very self absorbed of me I know, but that wail, please don’t leave me, comes from deep within my soul, I need you. I need you so desperately, whoever and whatever you are, I need you to light the path before me, because I am as lost as you are.
Mike had a story to tell, one that was indeed rooted in rejection, in a sense of not belonging, of never quite fitting in. He was a Navy vet, a likely meth addict, a man with a kind and gentle face and big brown eyes. His song, his essence captured a lot of hearts in these parts. I was blessed to have captured his attention a few times, to have caught his eyes and made contact however fleeting, outside and beyond that encounter at the creek. I shot humanity his way, as if some how my eyes were like a weapon that could penetrate his soul, little bullets saying, please, just know that you are loved.
I often mock this town, I call it the 9th circuit of hell, but that does not tell the whole story, that does not acknowledge all of those who do reach out to the least of these, the many, many people that do everything in their power to let some people know they are loved, that they are seen, that we care. There are hands reaching out all over this place and hearts determined to let no one leave this world having been unseen, unknown.
Me, I simply feel, each encounter with someone a triumph over that numbness that can chill your soul like cheap anesthesia. I feel and simply let God collect my tears in a bottle. I have no idea why, perhaps because Jesus Christ once told Peter, “if you love me feed my sheep” and all I have to feed the sheep with is my heart.