I have a friend named Mark. We’re not the best of friends, in fact, we’re really mostly just acquaintances, but I still consider him a friend. I only know bits and pieces of his story. You see, Mark is homeless and we’ve been visiting on average once a week for the past few years. There’s only so much you can learn about a person while waiting for the light to turn green but my sense is that Mark’s a good guy. He’s broken, just like the rest of us and for whatever reason his brokenness keeps him on the street.
I had been driving past him for nearly a year before I rolled down my window to say hello. What always struck me about Mark was the sadness on his face, standing there at the corner of S. Lamar and Loop 360. He never actively tried to beg for money he just stood there looking incredibly sad.
Anyway, for the past few years we’ve been getting to know each other between green lights. I know that Mark has had three back surgeries; I know that he used to be an electrician; I know that he’s got a son at Ft. Hood. I also know that, by his own admission, he’s hooked on pain killers.
I remember vividly the day that Mark greeted me with a big smile when I stopped to talk. “This is the last time you’ll be seeing me here”, he said. “I got a job and I start tomorrow!!” It was the first time I had ever seen him so animated and excited. Two days later he was back out on the street. It seems that his job involved moving 80 lb bags of concrete and his back couldn’t handle that.
A few months later someone found him a place to stay at a half-way house in San Antonio. He was gone for a few days but the next Sunday morning I stopped and there he was again. Apparently, the half-way house was full of ex cons and he didn’t feel safe.
The next time it was a cousin who had found him a job and he was off on a bus to Memphis. He was back a month or so later. A few months ago his son had gotten him into a rehab center and had invited Mark to come live with him when his treatment was finished. He was back on the street in a couple of weeks.
I get angry with Mark when this happens. I don’t understand why, if he really wants off of the streets as he says he does, that he keeps blowing the opportunities he has to do so. I’ll drive a different way for awhile to avoid having to talk to him. But then I remember that it’s not my job to fix Mark. It’s not my job to judge him. It’s my job to love. I do it very imperfectly but that’s okay.
I very seldom give Mark anything material. A bottle of water, some granola bars from time to time. I gave him a few dollars when he was headed to Memphis. He always seems so grateful. It’s not about material things. It’s about giving dignity. It’s about treating him like a human being. I don’t know what it is that keeps Mark on the streets. I don’t even know if the story he has told me is true but it doesn’t matter. Mark is my friend and I’m grateful to him for helping me keep things in perspective. When I’m having a crappy day it shifts my focus to stop and talk to Mark. My problems are pretty miniscule compared to living on the street.
I pray that someday Mark will find peace and a way out of the life he lives now. The rest of it I just have to let go of.