Leading 70 homeless men and women through the lunch line isn’t easy, especially for a man who is homeless himself, but Red, aptly named with pale skin, tons of freckles and bright, curly red hair sticking out under his ball cap, rounds up the herd and leads them through the line, keeping them honest, yet sincere in making sure everyone has a plate and every plate is filled.
I asked Red where he stayed. Usually when I ask that, I’m given a street name, a railroad track number, or they say, “up in a camp somewhere,” not wanting to give away their site. Red’s answer? Well, one time he said, “oh, down southwest.” Next time, “oh, up northeast.”
“How long have you been in Little Rock?” I asked.
He looked down, as if trying to find the answer.
“Oh, a little while,” he answered, starting to look around and shift his stance.
I stopped my line of questioning and went back to building up cots and watching everyone climb into their makeshift beds and try to sleep in the crowded room.
“He did NOT want to answer your questions, did he?” my friend, Crystal, said later. No he didn’t. But why? Neither of us could figure it out.
Two days later I learned a story that would break my already wounded heart.
Not so long ago, Red was hit by a car and sent to the ER. He had no identification and ended up in a coma for a while. When he came out of it, he didn’t know his name, where he was from, where he was headed or anything else about his life.
He’s too scared to try to find out details, scared he might not like who he was, since now, despite being homeless, has a heart of gold and gives to others like he’s got the world at his fingertips.
Does he have a family? Does someone miss him? Is someone looking for him?
How does one go about making a difference in their corner of the world, when they aren’t sure which corner of the world is theirs to make a difference in? How do we deal with a world made for us to fit into some box, when no box fits us? Does a person’s past define his story? Or is the true story that person’s present and how he uses his today to better tomorrow?
Some days I feel like I have more questions than answers, but I’d rather ask a billion questions, than sit idly by and watch the answers disappear, like the memories of my friend, Red.