A Slap In The Face!
There are certain days I'm just plodding along, focusing on the mundane and menial tasks before me, when something rises out of the ashes and slaps me square in the face. This was one of those days!
It all started bright and early, at 4.30am! I was fast asleep, when I got a surprising phone call from our overnight supervisor at the shelter. One of our 4th floor residents got up and was walking to the restroom when she collapsed. She fell so hard, that when she smashed her head on the concrete floor, our supervisor heard it from one level below. After running upstairs, she found this lady in her mid-forties convulsing and unconscious on the ground, with blood streaming out her nose.
As other residents assisted her, 911 was quickly dialed.
Within moments, the ambulance came and took her away to the nearest hospital....
Yet, that was not the reason I was called.
Unfortunately, it was not that simple!
This injured lady has a son who slept through the whole ordeal. In the rushing chaos, the medics couldn't and wouldn't take him in the ambulance. Due to the severity of the fall, the blood and her convulsing, it was imperative to get her to the hospital as soon as possible, so they refused to wake up her boy and take him. Her son was now left in our huge homeless shelter, alone!
As I spoke to the overnight supervisor, I discovered that this lady was new; she'd only been with us a couple of days. The other residents who stayed on the floor didn't even know her name, yet through observations, they had deciphered a few things. While the mother seemed "developmentally delayed", people labelled her son as a "severely autistic" 8-10 year old. I am not a doctor, so I am unsure what this boy's diagnosis is; I listened to stories of how this young boy would only grunt, had been very restless throughout the night, was wandering aimlessly, standing at the end of people's beds and playing with a basketball. This was obviously aggravating to the other residents who were trying to sleep. His mother would get him back to his bed, only for him to get up and start wandering again, as soon as she would fall asleep.
The time came when he finally conked out, and this is when his mother's accident happened. He slept soundly, and was completely oblivious to all the commotion that surrounded him! Our supervisor stayed overtime, just in case he woke up.
When I arrived there, several hours later, it became my number one priority to help this family. What was her name? What was the boy's name? How old is this boy? Did she have an emergency contact? How would this boy react in this strange new environment, without the only person he knows? How bad was the mother's injury? These were just some of the many questions rattling around my brain.
When he awoke, I immediately realized the severity of his disability. The referral stated their names and told us he was actually 14, but he looked only 10. He was small and fragile. He was unable to speak words, so he just grunted, possessed awkward rapid limb movements and pointed. We tried to communicate with him what happened to his mother, not knowing if he understood us or could even hear our words. He just sat there, cross-legged on his bed, looking in every direction and trying not to look at us. He looked scared, and would suddenly lie down and wrap himself under his sheet, hiding himself from us unfamiliar onlookers. Finally, he went into his mama's bag and pulled out a big box of cereal, pointing and grunting the need to eat. Darrell raced downstairs to get milk, a bowl and spoon, as we set him up at a table. He was very hungry, because he devoured bowl after bowl.
Now that he was somewhat stabilized, and with Darrell and other staff supervising and assisting him, I knew I needed to make my way to the hospital to see his mother. I grabbed Beth, and off we went, making phone calls and plans along the way. This visit was very important in finding an emergency contact, her future housing and other needs. Yet, our plans were shot when they were about to release her and she had another enormous seizure. She had to stay!
Meanwhile, this young guy had spent his time sitting on his bed playing with his toddler toys, had obviously eaten a bunch of chips from the crumbs that surrounded him, and would spontaneously get up and wander the floor. Darrell would tirelessly follow him, making sure he wouldn't go into certain "no go" areas or take someone's food from the fridge.
Yet, this temporary problem had turned into a permanent concern. We were quickly realizing that his mother wasn't going to return "today", and we had no idea when she would return. This second seizure could have her hospitalized and monitored for days.
In light of all this chaos, our increased worry and this boy's need for continual care was quickly dissipating. Out of the ashes, came a slap in the face! Not a harsh slap, but a slap which cried of love and community. A slap that woke me up and reminded me of the compassion and care that beautifully rises in the harsh reality of homelessness and poverty.
The families that surrounded this boy; the very ones who had been kept awake and aggravated by his midnight wanderings, started rallying around this boy. Families that have been neglected and rejected by society, with tainted reputations, with multiple dilemmas of their own and their own struggles of homelessness, stood tall. They embraced this kid, making him feel comfortable! They watched him, played with his toys, took him to play at a playground, bought him treats and an ice cream and made sure he ate lunch and dinner. They made a very uncomfortable situation, extremely comfortable for this confused boy. No one asked these families to rise up, they offered and met his needs....
This unknown child, with an inability to verbally communicate, and an inability to look after himself, felt so much love by a bunch of "unknowns". He felt the "love" from Darrell and started trusting him, he was grabbing Darrell's hand and leading him around the floor, pointing at things. He couldn't express the "love" with words, but there was joy and happiness that had now spread across this young's fella's face. All these families, teenagers and children embraced him, by living their complicated lives with him. I could tell this boy felt so much love and acceptance!
......and he no longer felt the need to hide under his sheet.
As the day was coming to a close, and someone finally came to pick him up, he was soaking in all the love and attention he'd received this day.
What started up as a major dilemma and concern, ended up being a beautiful picture of love, compassion and acceptance. Yet, this is not a rarity in the homeless community, it's a daily reality. The "least of these" are constantly being embraced, helped and loved in so many different ways. Most of them aren't as obvious as this, but it's happening all the time; people willing to sacrifice, go well beyond their means, to help another person in need.
On this same day, I witnessed a group of homeless men assisting a helpless sick lady, who'd just been booted out of her house. These men, were also going the extra mile and sacrificing a lot, by making sure this lady had a safe and secure place to lay her fragile head. These men I'm talking about, would get nothing in return. These men, are people many in our modern day society, would deem as the unsightly urban plagues that torment and devalue our cities; they are judged as worthless thugs, crooks, junkies and bums. Yet, they stood tall in the ashes of despair, ensuring a glimmer of hope rose around this weak and fragile lady.
It is these particular men, helping this lady...
It is these particular families, helping this young boy upstairs...
...that were teaching me (once again) what "kingdom love" really is. They were showing me (once again) how to love as Jesus taught. The "least of these" weren't being ignored, forgotten and despised, they were being embraced, sprinkled with compassion and splattered with "Revolutionary Love" in Cornerstone today.
Several days later, I see this mother and son reunited, walking down the street together, and then eating in the cafeteria together; smiling, feeling safe, knowing they're loved and experiencing an unusual and remarkable hope.
"as you've done it unto the least of these, you've done it unto Me!"
Jesus was loved today, and I was privileged to witness it!