Collapsing Walls and a Snapped Femur!

Jerome tried to get out of the way, but he couldn’t! The wall collapsed, BANG, right on him. His right leg, which was over his left leg, took the full impact. His femur snapped like a twig. Twice! There he lay, crushed under the extremely heavy wall, with the thickest bone in his body, the hardest bone to break, broken in two places. Terrified, petrified and horrified, the three guys that surrounded him used all their strength and adrenalin to budge the wall, and pull him out! In excruciating pain, Jerome lay in the rubble.

His buddies called 911, and the ambulance took Jerome to Weiss Hospital.

Jerome could have died that day. The reality is; his snapped femur prevented him from being completely crushed or paralyzed. It was a horrible accident; the doctor said it was the worst femur break he’d ever seen. In his 6hr surgery, he needed multiple pins, plates, screws and cables to hold that bone together. Every metal detector is going to scream with excitement when they see him approaching. The truth us: It was only by God’s grace that we could sit, speak, laugh and pray with Jerome as he lay in his hospital bed.

I am not writing this, to ruminate over this accident. I could go into many more details, but I am writing this, to tell another story. This is a true tale about how a rejected community gathers around each other, cares deeply for each other and loves the broken brother. This is a story of love and compassion! This is a story about how those who are struggling to venture through the valleys will join hands to rise up and try reaching the peak together.

I got the call on Thursday evening by one of Jerome’s friends. I went and waited in the hospital waiting room with his three buddies who had rescued him and they told me the whole story. We had to wait because the ER doctors were stabilizing his leg, making sure blood could get into his foot. Finally, 2 of us were able to go see him. When we came back out, Jerome had 4 more people waiting to visit

Well, it didn’t stop there….

People kept on coming to see him. Friends, acquaintances and family just kept on flowing in and out, in and out, in and out for the 5 days he was in the hospital. People were continually coming in to check on him, bring him food and fellowship with him. When visiting Jerome, without even looking at her computer screen, the hospital receptionist automatically knows who Jerome is and his room number. She smiles and says, “Who is this guy? He’s very popular. He has had a ton of visitors all day!”

Yet Jerome isn’t a celebrity; he is simply a homeless man who lives a homeless shelter and goes to a relatively small Chicago church full of homeless and precariously housed folk.

I am writing this to challenge the typical stereotype of the lonely shopping cart pushing homeless guy, roaming around isolated and neglected with a bottle of cheap wine. When people, like Jerome, end up living in a homeless shelter, they become part of a beautiful community; what I have called in the past, “a rejected community”. It is a group of people who really care and love one another and they are united through the powerful bond of hardship and struggle.They even accept, love and protect the lonely scruffy stereotypical homeless person, giving them a new family. I have written about a couple of very isolated lonely guys they embraced when no one else would.

Hospitals can be very lonely places. I walk past room after room, and gaze in and see people lay in their beds asleep or quietly watching their TVs. I see the occasional visitor, but most patients are alone. Yet, I hear laughter and fellowship down the hallway, and it is Jerome’s room full of his friends from the shelter and his Church. I wander in and I am splattered by a mass of hugs and handshakes. His bedside table is heaped with Popeye’s chicken, candy, cake and chocolate treats.

I’m there for about an hour and a bunch of people come and go, and finally, I’m left with just Jerome. We talk about all his visitors. In 3 days, we calculated almost 50 people of all different colors, races and ages who had rallied around his hospital bed. We were both amazed by the generosity and love of the two communities he is part of.

With tears in his eyes, Jerome tells me about a particular homeless family who stay at Cornerstone. They had come to visit him. He tells me to pick up a homemade card (see photo) on the bed next to his. It was made by this family’s young daughter. He is utterly blown away by this kind loving gesture and simply says; “look what she made me!” In all his agony, he had a big grin on his face because he realized how truly blessed he is.

The truth is; there are not too many communities or places in the USA or this world, where you’ll see a young white girl want to give a non-related older black man a “get well soon” card. She did it, because she deeply cared about him!

The truth is; there are not too many communities or places in the USA or this world, where you’ll see such a diverse group of people showering love on a person who may be a different color, race, religion or generation.

The truth is, Jerome is the subject of this story, but this love and compassion is the remarkable story of so many homeless folk who wander around Uptown and enter Clifton Avenue; the street I now refer to as, “Hope Alley.” In Cornerstone, and our little homeless community, a wonderful picture of hope is being painted. Why? Because we see so many barriers that were once consumed by hate and prejudice tumbling down!

Jerome is an extremely friendly, outgoing, nice guy. People are attracted to him, because he has a bounce in his step and a personality that always wants to freely give, help others and volunteer his services. Truth be told: Jerome did get a little extra attention because of this cheerful vigor and vim.

But, another truth remains, I could tell stories of an entirely different crew of people; homeless men and women who battle the bottle, the pipe, severe mental illness, prison and gangs. I am talking about folk that many people snarl upon and judge as utterly worthless. Yet, I have visited many of these wonderful homeless folk who have wound up doing time in overpriced hospital beds, and this remarkable truth remains; visitors always rally round their sick brother or sister leaving hospital staff dazed and confused that a poor homeless individual could render so much love and attention.

Jerome’s story, Archie’s story, Rey’s story, Willie’s story, Sheina’s story and there are so many more; their stories are simple stories that give me hope beyond hope…
Hope in a humanity that still loves and cares for one another
Hope that racial barriers can and will be broken
Hope that animosity can be transformed into forgiveness and peace
Hope of seeing the story of the Good Samaritan lived out in our midst
Hope of seeing people who love their neighbors as themselves
Hope of seeing the love and compassion Jesus spoke of…
…. lived out right here in Uptown!
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