It was Friday morning and persistent rain had continued through the night. I had just about finished delivering coffee, donuts, blankets and sleeping bags to the absolute homeless who spend their nights in the doorways and alleys of our city. It was still before dawn and I was wet through to the skin. There was a different kind of chill about that morning.
The traffic lights on Government and Johnson Streets were just about to change to green when I noticed a tall, young, well-built stranger, walking down out of the alley. He was pushing the familiar shopping cart full of blankets, clothing and articles that I thought he had dug out of the dumpsters that night. He stood motionless at the edge of the alley while I parked the van and walked towards him. As I approached him, the smell of the alley was foul in the air.
It was then that the night lights of the street revealed the stranger’s face for the first time. He had a stoic face, a face of the past, free of emotion and of time itself. It was almost marble in appearance. He was perhaps a Roman and certainly European — strikingly handsome.
Before I had the chance to speak he asked “Do you wish anything from my cart? All is for sale. I have a good radio, a CD player and some great vinyl records and other family treasures?”
He was at least 6 foot seven, his arms sculptured with muscle, large neck, Roman-shaped head. Definitely his eyes were timeless eyes. Eyes of wisdom; of insight. They sparkled in the early morning light. They were eyes of intrigue; luring eyes; seductive eyes. What was his story I wondered? Surely a man of such obvious strength combined with his handsome, noble features need not be rummaging through our garbage for his existence.
He began to push his cart forward. I offered him a coffee and a donut. “No thank you, he answered. “I have all that I need here in my cart.”
I began to walk with him, for he had caught my curiosity and I longed to know his story. As we walked up Johnson Street I told him who I was and what I was doing out in the early morning rain. He then suddenly stopped and intentionally looked me directly in the eyes and said, “I know who you are and what you do every morning; it is my honour to walk with you”.
Just then we heard the cry of a young woman. She was sitting on the steps of a doorway that led into a hair salon. She had obviously been collecting pop cans and empty bottles all night. One of her garbage bags that held the pop cans had fallen over and they were all over the sidewalk and lying in the gutter in front of her. She had her head buried into her folded arms resting on her knees and she was sobbing uncontrollably. She was shivering and shaking while her wailing broke the silence of the night.
The stranger quickly left his cart, stepping around the pop cans that were scattered on the ground and spoke softly to her, “Give me the cans and I will give you what you need”.
She lifted her head and looked at him, her eyes wet with tears, her nose running. He stepped back to his cart, quickly dug through it a while and pulled out a small rectangular wooden box. He opened it and presented several new white silk handkerchiefs, that were wrapped neatly in the box. As she grabbed a clean handkerchief out of the box and put it to her eyes he said once again “Give me your cans and I’ll give you what you need”.
In an angry voice she replied, “Take the fuckin’ cans; I’m too tired to carry them anyway.”
With that he went back to his cart and dug through it, this time for quite a while, before he came upon an old wooden ring box. He lifted the lid off the box and presented it to her “This was my mother’s wedding ring; it has great value. Bring it to the jeweller on Fort Street. He knows someone is coming with it. “Promise me” he said, “that you will not sell it on the Street. Its value will offer you the possibility of new life in abundance.”
She wiped her nose with a clean white handkerchief, looked at the stranger and said “Thank you.”
Without a word, he turned around, rather quickly grabbed his cart, and began to push it once again down Johnson Street. I realized he was weeping, also wiping his eyes with one of the handkerchiefs from the box. It was then for the first time that I noticed that the seat of his pants was wet but because it had rained all night and I myself was wet through to the bone I didn’t think too much of it.
We came across another homeless man on Douglas Street sleeping in a doorway–his cart full of old blankets and other items that he had gathered from the garbage can the night before. Once again the stranger left his cart and said softly to the homeless man “Give me your old blankets and I will give you what you need”.
“If you need the blankets you can have them, but they’re wet; they’ve been in my cart all night.”
The man quickly went back to his own cart and dug through once again for a moment or two and found an old wallet. He handed it to the homeless man. “Take this,” he said. “It will offer you the possibility of a new life; use it wisely.”
Quickly he turned, grabbed his cart and began to push it once again. The tears running down his face were too prevalent not to notice as he wiped them away with the white handkerchief he had in his hand. We did not walk far before we came across an old man wrapped only in a dirty old army blanket, unconscious on the wet cement beneath him. The tall stranger went to his cart and pulled out several clean new blankets. He took the wet dirty blanket off the old man and gently, one by one, laid some of his new, clean blankets over the old man’s cold body. Tears once again streamed down his face as he then grabbed his cart and began to push it along.
By this time the light of the day was beginning to break its way over the majestic Olympic Mountains and the city was coming alive with traffic hustling and bustling its way into town. It was then I noticed drops of blood running from his pant leg dripping onto the ground. “You’re bleeding.” I said. He stopped pushing his cart and looked at me. “I know; I’m dying,” he said. “Yesterday the doctor told me I only had days to live. I decided that I would go to my home and collect some my of valuables and give them away in hopes that whoever I gave then to would find life as my life was passing away.”
I walked with him while he pushed the cart another two or three blocks before he was unable to push it any longer. “Call the ambulance,” he asked. “I cannot push my cart any longer.”
I called and in a few minutes they arrived. They wrapped him in clean blankets, placed him on their stretcher and put him into the ambulance.
“What do you want me to do with your cart?” I asked.
“There is nothing of great value left in it,” he said. “Bring it to the alley where we met and let them have what they will.”
As the ambulance drove away, I pushed the cart back down Johnson Street to the alley where I had met him. I did not look through his possessions. I left the cart there as he had instructed.
Due to the rain the next night there were many that needed my ministry on the Street. Many needed dry socks; one the needed a coat; many asked for dry, clean, safe sleeping bags. Some asked for bus tickets. One had cut his hand badly while digging through our garbage dumpster the night before and needed me to wrap his hand in clean gauze — while others were just thankful for the warm coffee and the simple donuts that I offered them.
One of the younger women came up to me and said, “Look Rev. Look at this beautiful necklace a stranger gave me last night. He said it was his grandmother’s and that it had great value. What do you think?”
“Did he tell you to go to the jeweller on Fort Street with it?” I asked.
“Yes; how did you know?” she answered.
“Did he say it would offer you the possibility of a new life?”
“Yes, he did say something like that.”
“Go to that jeweller this morning,” I said. “New life is being offered to you.”
To this day I do not know the stranger’s name nor do I know if the gifts he gave were of great value, but I’d like to believe that the gifts given by him really did offer the possibility of new life for those who received them. I also know this: I have not seen the three people he gave the gifts to on the Street since that morning.
Yes, even today, miracles are possible when gifts of love are offered.