Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lessons From a Homeless Man [Tanden and Erin, north Minneapolis]

[Tanden and Erin bought a house in north Minneapolis from Urban Homeworks several years ago. This blog entry is an excerpt from their own blog Check out more of their journey there!]

Three nights ago I was standing by my front window, when I heard a familiar voice. I looked out the window and there was Charles making his way up our front steps. Before he got a chance to knock, I opened the door and invited him in.
We first meet Charles when we moved in two years ago, back then he was living in his van in the alley. Today Charles is trying to recover form a surgery that he had on his knee a few months ago. Charles is a Vietnam vet, and the injury is one that we got in the war. The surgery was going to help him with the movement in that knee, but in reality the opposite has happened. Today he is having a very hard time getting around. He can not longer work on cars, a love of his and a source of money. He can no longer go on long walks around the neighborhood, his freedom and movement are slowing leaving him now, which it seems to me are slowly but surely leading to his death. When he left the other night it I had to help him out of his chair, and then it took him several minutes before he could take a step.
I often wonder what kind of health care we are giving to one of the men that fought in one of our wars. I wonder if Charles is not just another one of those men we asked to go to war and to be a good citizen, but know that he is old and is in need of us, I wonder if we are really there or not.
Every time I see Charles now I encourage him to take care of himself, because I tell him that the neighborhood needs him. I know that because I know that I need Charles. Over the 2 years Charles has taught me a lot about life and the struggle of the poor.
My white culture taught me that Charles was lazy, did not want to work, was a drain on us, had nothing to offer, and was an object of our charity. In my relationship with Charles I found that not to be true.
What I have found is a friend that I have been able to share my life with. A friend that I was able to help by giving him rides, letting him use our car, sharing meals with, listening to, and giving him a garage to do his work in. But more importantly Charles has been a friend that has given to me, examples of what it really means to give to others, what life is really like when you don’t have a place to call home, he has called the police when he thought that someone was breaking into our house (he was the best security system that you can get), finding our house and car keys on the front sidewalk and returning them to us, and being a voice that tells the stories of the neighborhood and welcomed us when we the newcomers.
After I talked to Charles the other night I realized that there may only be a few more conversations like that with him so I better cherish each one. As Erin and I went to sleep that night we both talked about how we missed Charles and we will ever be grateful for God visiting us through Charles, so that we might see and know truth that is so often intentionally hidden from us.