I love camping. I love the idea of escaping for a few days into the wild and feeling like I’m ‘living off the land.’ I like bringing along a cell phone, change of clothes, comfortable tent, sleeping bag, lantern and a camera. I’d like to think I’m pretty low maintenance and maybe I am, but even so, I realize lately I’m so caught up in the world, sometimes I trip over my own feet.
Danny has lived in a ‘camp’ outside of town for almost a year now. I’ve never been to any of them, but I have friends that have. I know at least one of those friends carries a gun… just in case. Not exactly the kind of ‘camp’ I remember from Girl Scouts.
Danny spent the first 50+ years of his life taking care of his mother. She was a kind woman and his all-time hero. He loved her as much or more than any son I’ve seen love his mother. Telling me about her brought tears to his eyes. As the tears were streaming from this rough old bearded man, I felt tears swell up in my own eyes.
I know it sounds silly, but there’s something about a grown man crying that cuts to the very core of me. I’m old school. Men are tough and strong and nothing should touch them.
She died almost a year ago and the loss was too great for him. She was the last living relative he knew, so he left his hometown to escape his pain. He landed in Little Rock with few skills and too old to learn or use the few he may have had. He fell in with a crowd in one of these camps, and now calls it home.
When the snow came, many of these people didn’t know of much or trust much beyond their camps. They came hesitantly back into a broken world that they learned was full of pain and structure they cannot understand and find impossible to live in. Something I think a lot of people don’t understand is that it isn’t a CHOICE. To live in our world is an everyday extraordinary struggle beyond our comprehension to some.
Danny was only in the warming center one night. I wonder where he went later. Stories like his are throughout shelters. A family member dies and life loses its luster. These big-hearted, strong people can no longer function in the world you and I know. Some have dealt with their crises by self medicating with the bottle or drugs. Some have inner will, and learn to survive the best they can in a world that has forgotten them.
How do we, as Christians and fellow humans, find a way for them to remember happiness and joy? How do we dry Danny’s tears? How do we welcome him and his friends without overwhelming them?