Bathing in the spray park
It’s ten in the morning and Fred is shirtless, bathing in the spray park. Surrounded by toddlers in swim diapers and soccer dads, no one seems bothered by a homeless man’s shampoo horns. It’s easy to pretend homeless people don’t exist.
I walk over and Fred recognizes me. I sit down, complain about my back, and we talk for an hour. He talks with me as if we have been friends for years. This is our first conversation. He has been traveling around the state and got new shoes from a Baptist church in Everett. His converse low tops didn’t have laces and they were messing with his feet. “People started staring on the bus, so I kept moving from seat to seat. I go to the Emergency room to get my brain fixed. I stay in the park because I like to be outside with God.” After talking about his favorite lakes to fish in, he asks me about my health. “Are you disabled?” I have a strained back muscle and the expression on my face reveals that I am in pain. “How is your knee?” Fred remembers from the beginning of our conversation that I had knee surgery a few years ago. He talks about his dad’s knee problems from working manual labor jobs. We bond and reflect over memories of hard work and Motrin.
We were having a real conversation and listening to each other, as people dependent on God and on the mercy of strangers. The vulnerability I experienced by being physically weak due to injury was profoundly humbling. The way Fred and the homeless community continue to welcome the awkward, hobbled Reverend fulfills the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8, ESV). If we do that, we are doing well. Well done, Fred. “God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him” (James 2:5, ESV).