Column: Broken, but not forgotten
February 15, 2017
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He was cold – hunched over in his wheelchair parked by the curb. He was dirty – ignored while cars passed him to reach the gas station 10 yards away.
He was broken. His hand hung on a hinge from his never-healing wrist, shaking as it reached for his beanie.
His feet could never touch the ground. Even the legs he had left were a remnant of a bad memory.
He branded himself, his arm marked by 50-year-old ink. A cross with his initials stained his deflated bicep.
He was used up. His voice cracked through his heavy accent as he told me his story.
I’ll never know exactly why I was called to help this man. It’s easy to pass homeless people every day without a thought, but this man had a story I couldn’t resist falling into.
All it took was three words for my mom and I to get to know this man.
“How are you?”
“Well, not too good, ma’am,” he began and his misty eyes caught me from his chair.
He started off with the grass. “It’s turned all yellow,” he said. “I’ve got hay fever so bad I can’t barely breathe.” A few sniffs and stories later, he started to explain how his life had changed.
He hadn’t always been in the chair. Once he knew the ground beneath his feet and the wind through his hair. He didn’t have a home, but he had his feet. He received donations anywhere from five to 50 dollars and chained it to his pants. He’d wake up to an empty wallet the next morning–defenseless, robbed and penniless again. People like him were easy targets.
One night, after the sun had fled and the shops had closed, a man came from behind and attacked him. Weak and torn apart, he was left in the corner of the parking lot to bleed out. The predator was pleased when he walked away with a few dollars.
He was found the next morning by a woman, terrified by the sight of his flesh, uncertain whether he was living or long gone. The ambulance came, leading to the amputation of both legs. I remember the pain in his eyes as he described to me the nurses and how they treated him. They yanked his stitches out of his freshly cut wound as he screamed and thrashed. They ignored his tears stitch-by-stitch, and soon, he was sent back into the world; this time with a chair.
Not long after, he was jumped again–helpless in his chair. His wrist snapped, but all he ever knew was to deal with it, and he lost the use of his hand that day too. The 18 dollars he lost to that man was incomparable to his crooked wrist.
“But I’m still alive,” he said.
My mom asked if we could pray for him, and he thanked us. He shared his memory of following Christ when he was 12 years old. He tattooed a cross on his arm and received lashes from his father for it, but he showed it off proudly to me as if to say he would do it again.
We bowed our heads, he removed his cap and I closed my eyes. As we prayed, I reflected on what I had just learned. The money in my pocket I was about to give him was fleeting. It couldn’t solve all his problems. It probably wasn’t even enough to feed him for a week, but I smiled for what I had done. What I was able to give him was my company. Even as I heard him sniffling in his chair, I knew he needed a friend more than a few bucks.
When all was said and I opened my eyes to see his face, I watched a tear fall before he wiped it away.