N I C K ....

This was actually written a few years ago...

 The men filed through one by one printing their names, writing their ages and signing their autographs. Different demeanor's, temperaments, smells and personalities would grace us as we checked the men in and assigned each man with his mattress and two gray woolly blankets.

One can discover a lot about a man through this simple procedure. One man waits patiently for his turn, another tries to push in, another manipulates his way up the line. A drunken sleepy man stooped in posture, an energetic twitching man grins talking to an imaginary friend and four friends joke, talk and laugh loudly with each other.

One gentleman who would grace us frequently, at Macon Overnight Ministries, during its whole 3 year existence was an Italian Polish 53 year old simply called Nick; he would stand quietly in line, keep to himself and suddenly splutter into a coughing fit which would disperse the crowd around him. The people around would then rant on with loud accusations of rampant TB. Ironically Nick never had Tuberculosis. Nick would jump in anger to his own defense, and we assured the crowd that he was not contagious.

Nick shuffled to the sign-in sheet and murmurs “hi Jeremy” and with snail-like swiftness awkwardly writes N I C K with his face several inches from the paper. No last name, no age and no signature. He often scribbled his name in the place he was not supposed to write on, hardly ever keeping his 4 letters between the 2 lines.

Nick lived with a horrific disability rarely seen or admitted on the shores of America. He was illiterate. He could not read or write a single lick, except for those 4 magic letters – N I C K. Until one witnesses such a man struggling through life, it is hard to put oneself in such a man’s shoes. Illiteracy affects every aspect of their lives.

Nick’s struggles did not end there. He had some horrible asthmatic and bronchial problems, issues dealing with excessive weight and mental illness and a host of medications; thus, we ended up calling 911 for him more than any other man. After a few nights in a hospital he would arrive again on our doorstep needing another night’s rest. Nick always wanted to offer something; he picked up a broom or mop and proceeded to clean, often resulting in rapid panting and the need to sit. We told him repeatedly that he did not need to help, but he insisted and would grab the broom. Nick had a heart of gold.

Penniless. Unemployed. Homeless. He did not fulfill society’s perception of homeless men; Nick was not a drug addict, an alcoholic, a criminal or a gang-banger. His curse was simply, he was unable to read or write. He was unable to breathe like the rest of us. But, as with all of us, Nick was a human being searching for his God given purpose, eternal life free of suffering and for love. Nick experienced glimpses of that at Cornerstone.

We loved Nick. Nick loved us. He erupted with outbursts of emotion from time to time, but Nick was part of the Cornerstone family. We never knew of any family he had. A new guy would come in, ridicule, provoke and taunt this poor man, and many a CCO veteran would jump to his defense. Nick had found a family at CCO, and we proudly accepted him. We needed Nick! Nick needed us!

After months of encouraging Nick to join Harper House (our day time supportive service program), he enrolled, and we were able to help him more thoroughly. We spoke with the doctors who monitored his health and prescribed his medication from the local free clinic. We helped him take the right dosage. We helped him eat the right foods. He was losing weight, looking healthier and had gentler deposition.

Every night “The Word” was spoken to the men as they lay on their mattresses. For 20 – 30 minutes we expounded truth from the Word of God. It was Nick’s highlight in his long days. He waited in anticipation. As he sat up gazing at the speaker, he was angered when another made a noise and was frustrated when the wrong person delivered the message. He would burst out with a question as he tried to understand. He longed for “the Word”.

Out of the blue, the MOM and Harper House programs lost funding and they had to close. My thoughts and prayers went out to all the men; I knew some guys would take advantage of the situation, a lot would find their struggle harder and some would resort back to the life they had been fighting to defeat. The stories are immense! But, my heart went out to Nick; the question was how he would or could survive a brutal winter in Chicago. He did not end up in another shelter, in a transient hotel or a nursing home. His disability sadly caused Nick to disappear and sleep under any viaduct or tree. He was hard to find.

Three and half months later I heard on the streets, Nick had passed away in mid December 2004, in a Chicago hospital. Through a little investigation I discovered he had pneumonia and an infection. The cold Chicago winter had captured his life.

I believe we were able to offer this lonesome warrior a little concern, a little love and Jesus. The “least of these” stood in our midst. Jesus loved Nick. Nick loved Jesus. I believe this lonely man passed into His loving eternal arms, where there will be no crying, no pain, no suffering and no injustice.
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