Water Mosaic echoes from home

pondering the mysteries, simplicity, and humor of life

Monday, January 10, 2005

A Man Named Billy

What a restful and enjoyable weekend. Spent time with friends, played Monopoly, watched Napoleon Dynamite for the third time and finished some reading I needed to do. ("Your mom goes to college") The only problem was I have developed some throat dryness due to drainage and Spring-like weather in Winter. Because of these factors, I have an extremely low voice and was belting out some "Berry White" type bass at church yesterday and this morning in the shower. Wonder what my clients will think when they hear me on the phone today? Maybe I should serenade them with a little ballad "Can't Get Enough of Your Love Baby."

I have been meaning to journal about this but never knew what to say about it. Up to this point I still don't know what to say. So here goes...On my way home from work last week, I pulled out of the parking lot and was proceeding to turn right onto 8th Avenue. I noticed a man walking up the street from the corner of my eye. There was nothing unusual about this man, yet I felt like I knew him. The line to turn right began to shorten. While my mind is usually preoccupied with news from NPR or hoping I don't fall asleep on the Interstate, I could not escape the haunting image of the man I saw walking up the sidewalk. I glanced back and studied his face, all the while not trying to let him see me. "Who was he?" I thought. My memory searched its database for an answer, a picture, a clue, something to let me know who this man was and how I knew him. Again, another car turned right making the line even shorter and pushing me towards the stop sign. Finally it clicked. My search was over. It was Billy.

Several years ago while I was still a student at MTSU, I decided to stop going to church on Wednesday nights to be fed and do a little feeding myself. I followed a friend of mine (John Erickson) out to Nashville one night to an empty, dimly lit, abandoned hospital parking lot on the South side of Nashville. A church called Green Street Church of Christ, mainly made up of Lipscomb college students, would drive out to this parking lot and feed those that needed a meal. Their interactions with the homeless community would go far beyond a meal with the homeless one night a week, but this was my baptism into their world. Their ministry was coined with the phrase used by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church: Fools for Christ. To be honest, I was not comfortable with the idea of sitting down with someone who had been through a world of experience that I may never know of. What did I have in common with these people? Why would they want to talk to me? I have a car, rent money to pay for my apartment, food in my cabinet, not to mention the other stuff that invades my life that I see as "worthy." How can I relate to them? All this changed when I meet a man named Billy.

I felt comfortable with Billy even though he seemed reclusive by sitting by himself away from the crowd. Sitting by the fence on the cold hard parking lot cement, we talked for what seemed to be a long time. He wore life on his face with the thick lines that displayed a weathersome journeyman's travels. We spoke about Nashville, the music industry, Bob Dylan, traveling throughout the United States, politics, our childhoods. It was as if he and I were comrades in another life somewhere and we were reuniting from the ashes to check how the other was doing. Billy was one of the many faces I encountered on Wednesday nights under a Nashville sky. During my several months attending this gathering, I served food to those who were hungry, laughed with them, prayed with them, gave them rides, listened to them as well as shared with them. I meet a lot of people. Some I wouldn't remember, others I couldn't forget. Billy showed me that even though he was without a home or a job or the nice things we think we need, he was still human. That's a lesson that you can't find in any textbook.

I never saw Billy again until last week when I recognized him walking up the sidewalk near my workplace. I resent the fact that when it was my turn to turn right, I did. I left behind a man who still roams the streets without ever thanking him or acknowledging that I knew his name. His face still haunts the hallways of my mind, not in a negative manner, but as a reminder that all of humanity is just that, human. Thanks Billy.