At an early age, I was taught that life was made of choices, and as I become older, I would have the opportunity to make many decisions.
The first and most memorable opportunity came at an early age of nine years old. I had the privilege of growing up in a Christian atmosphere. My father was a minister, and was very involved in street ministries. He held church services for the homeless, as well as to many street gangs. I was given the opportunity to follow along, and with no hesitation, I accepted. At the time, I thought it was the coolest thing to be a part of. These are the people that everyone fears on the streets, and the same people we lock our doors and roll our windows up on, at busy intersections. I shared my feelings with my dad, and told him I was a little scared. At my age he understood why I had these feelings. Soon after, he asked me the most confusing question ever. He asked, “Why?”. I did not know how to answer this question. He apparently knew what I was feeling and thinking inside my young developing mind. I was told that I did not have any reason to be afraid, and if I learned to look past the obvious, I would see more than what was in front of me. I soon found that every person has a story or a reason for who or what they have become in their life. They were not all born homeless or as gang members, and not all of them were on drugs. Some of them just made wrong decisions or choices at one point of their life.
One day I went with my dad to see him minister to a large group of homeless people under a bridge. I really don’t recall how to get to the location anymore. I do know that it is somewhere in downtown Houston. I only remember it, because I could see the old Spaghetti Warehouse from where I sat. I remember how hungry I was, and could not wait for services to be over. I sat next to an old man. I remember his name being John. He really was not old at all, but months without a shave and shower gave him that brittle and frail look. I do not remember what gave me the courage to ask him why he was homeless, but I can never forget his story. It is the moment, my whole perception of life, changed.
John was married for many years to his high school sweet heart. He had a very successful auto repair shop and was a master mechanic, that specialized in high end imports that ranged from Bmw to Porsche. John told me that he had made millions and had very little worries in his life. I remember the story took forever for him to finish. I was nine years old at the time, so I am sure my mind was elsewhere. I do remember that his wife died of cancer and that is when he gave up everything he had. I always wondered what happened to him, I wanted to know if his story was true. I never saw him at service again after that day.
Ten years later, a year after I graduated high school, I was driving to my grandmothers house and saw a homeless man walking on the side of the road. I see homeless men walking the street all the time, but there was something different about this one person. He looked very familiar. I drove past him, continuing my drive to grandma’s house, but something inside me told me to turn back. I wondered if it was John. I drove slowly toward him, and with my window down, I yelled his name. He turned around and as I drove closer, I realized it was him. I did not know what to say to him, except invite him over to my grandmothers house. It just so happened we were all meeting there to work on an old car with my dad. I told my dad who he was when we got there and he was invited to stay for awhile. We talked to John about what we were doing and asked him what he had been up to these past years. He had been wondering the city working on cars for people he met along the way, making just enough to buy a hot meal. I remembered what he told me about being a master mechanic. So I asked him to help us with this car we were trying to get running. I did not have to say much more, he grabbed the tools and went to work. I remember it seemed like minutes watching him get that old car running again. It was actually seven hours later, but I never heard it run any better.
I still see John every now and then, always somewhere different. It turns out John was 33 years old when I first met him and twenty years later he is still the same. A traveling master mechanic that will get anything running for a couple of cheeseburgers and a chance to tell his story. His way of letting us know, if you look closely enough, you will see a different story.
John taught me a valuable lesson in life. I can never forget his story and will never judge a man by his situation. I hope to write a book someday called “Have You Seen Me?’. It is about homelessness. The story we are all apart of. It tells of how we all feel toward homeless people, how we roll up our windows, lock our doors, and drive off without paying for getting our windshield cleaned. Most importantly, It will tell their story. Not who they where, but beneath the torn, dirty clothes, who they still are.
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