The “roving feasts” that I’ve been a part of for the last couple of months have really shaken up my mind. A few of our friends from Grace and Main spend part of the afternoon just hanging out with the homeless, near homeless, extreme poor and the addicted in some of the rough parts of downtown Danville. The stories that we hear there and some of the things we see and learn are mind-numbing.
My original intent with this post was to just pass along the notes I’ve been taking, with names and identifying information removed, to enable folks to get the flavor of what it’s like in these parts of town. For some this would not be new information. But for others who, like me, were oblivious, it might be shocking.
But Thursday’s roving was the hardest one yet and it changed my mind on this post. One of our friends, who has come so far and seemed to have turned the corner, showed up very drunk (at one o’clock in the afternoon). Eventually he became violent and we narrowly avoided a very bad situation.
People who do social work or ministry must grow accustomed to these kind of disappointments. Still, they must always hurt some.
Yet even as I am saddened by this major step backward for one man, I’m very happy to say that two others continue on the paths of sobriety and healing. They are inspirations for us to keep at it.
And even as I feel some frustration at men and women who are seemingly wasting their lives in drunkenness and addictions, now that I’ve come to know some of their stories I can make more sense of it. I met a man who is homeless and who is struggling as he tries to help his daughter who has been seriously injured in an automobile accident. The man served a long prison sentence and is partially disabled and unemployed. When he was a young boy he and his siblings were essentially abandoned by their parents, and they became foster children. He told us that when he was 8 and his sister was 10, she was raped by the father in their foster home, who was a respected leader in a big local church. As a terrified 8 year old boy, he lay in bed beside his 10 year old sister as she was being raped. The little girl grabbed his arm and her fingernails cut into it, but he was too frightened to do anything but stay silent. A few years later, when he was 12 ,they both ran away. He slept in a Goodwill collection box next to a park in our hometown, eating food from the dumpsters and trashcans at night. Eventually he learned to panhandle and joined a travelling carnival that came through town. So he had no education, no family and a horrific childhood. So it’s no surprise that he’s now a homeless ex-con.
That same day we spent time talking with an alcoholic young woman, who I’ve seen in situations that I knew made her scared and ashamed. I’ve seen her shaking and trembling as she spoke of trying not to drink, despite the fact that it was only early afternoon. She was leading a solid middle class life when her husband died of a morpheine overdose. In her confusion and anger she began using drugs too, ending up in a relationship with a drug dealer who beat and abused her for years. Now she’s living on the streets.
I could go on and on. I had about 8 pages of notes of stories like this I was going to post. But I’m going to just stop with this instead.
I’m glad I got involved with the roving feasts. I often wish there was some way to just magically set right all the things that are wrong in these communities. But there is no magic.
So we just try to be good company for a little while. For many folks that seems to be something they really appreciate.
I’m reminded of a Leonard Cohen lyric:
“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”