When Your Tears Are Not Your OwnFriday, June 10, 2016
I am not sure how to tell Eddie's story. There is a big part of me that is selfishly keeping his pictures all to myself. Why? Because I'm not sure you will understand what went "unsaid" between us in the alley. There is no way to accurately express how our hearts collided into one another without it sounding incredibly bizarre.
And it was bizarre. The emotion, the joy, the pain...
But I suppose it is time to try.
Eddie was almost the last man I was able to talk to in the alley. I hadn't really enjoyed being there as much as usual. Everyone felt a little cranky. I was a little cranky. People weren't smiling or chatting. I had been standing awkwardly next to one man and suddenly thrust out my hand to shake his and said, "Hi! I'm Gia!" He was a tall man and he didn't move his head to look at me, just cut his eyes down through the corners of his eyes. One end of his mouth curled up with disdain and he didn't make a move to shake my hand. Truly, I think he snarled at me like a lion. No joke. Stupidly, I thrust my hand forward a little bit more, indicating that he was indeed going to shake my hand or this challenge was going to end with a kick in the shins.
He shook my hand.
"I'm snapping portraits--" I barely got out.
"I don't want my picture taken. I don't like what you're doing."
I blinked. "Oh?"
"You're promoting homelessness. That's what you're doing. It's wrong."
A million different things leaped up in my brain to say to the man, but instead I just patted his shoulder and said brightly, "Well, that's not what I'm doing. You have a great morning."
Thankfully, a friend told me that I should talk to Eddie. I sat down on the curb next to the older man and he asked, "What part of my story do you want me to tell you?"
I was pulling out my phone to take notes and simply answered with, "Just tell me whichever part you think would speak to people's hearts."
He looked up, staring off at nothing, his eyes narrowing as he thought. "Kindness," he said, voice thick with sudden emotion. "People need to be kinder to one another."
Eddie began to tell me his story but many of his sentences were left hanging in the air. I think that parts off it caused too much grief in his heart and he just cut the words off, letting them hang on their own before falling empty into the alley. He told me that he had plenty of money one time and lived in a beautiful house with a nice yard. He had a beautiful wife once. Children. I'm not sure how it unraveled for him. I think money went missing and the whole Jenga tower just started to collapse.
"People need to realize that not everyone is self-sufficient," he said. He was staring back down at the alley at some of the other men that were still mulling about. He motioned with his cigarette to a few of them. He told me that some of them were not mentally capable of taking care of themselves. "They're not whole up there, you know?" He pointed at his own head and I nodded. I understood what he met. "How can people expect that they can manage without help?"
By this point, I notice that tears are in Eddie's eyes but they fall from the inside corners and pool in the creases underneath. The tears don't roll down his cheeks like I would expect. For some reason, I can't stop looking at this. My heart starts to roll over and find itself in my throat. The hot burn of my own tears is stinging the backs of my eyes...
I'm going to cry.
I'm going to cry right here in the alley like a little girl.
I look over Eddie's head as he tells me that people with money walk by and look at them like they're nothing. I'm blinking fast, breathing in deep, trying to quell the dam that's about to break lose. "Money doesn't make you better," he says. "Money doesn't make you perfect. There's only one person that's perfect. And He died for us."
Tears are running down my cheeks now and I look back at Eddie's face. "Isn't that something?" I say. "He was perfect and good...and yet He died for us."
Friends, I don't even think I grasped a small portion of Eddie's story. Not all of it made sense. But there was this deep sadness and brokenness that I felt. At the same time, I felt a depth of love and compassion that I often feel when I am seeking the face of God. This man felt fatherly to me. He was a father. He shared a photo with me of his three children. They were young in the photo, and the clothing dated it as having been taken in the 80's. But there was something else...
Suddenly, I told Eddie, "I'm going to just move this coffee out of the way, and I'm going to scoot close, and I'm going to hug you."
He didn't think it was odd at all. As soon as my arms were around his neck, we both began to sob. Not lightly, either...
"It's okay, honey," I heard him whispering to me through his tears. "It's going to be okay."
I had this sense that Eddie wasn't crying for himself, or for me.
I think Eddie's tears were simply for all the pain and anguish that was poured out on the beauty of this world. It was as if his tears were not his own, but everyone's. His grief wasn't just his own, but belonged to countless others who's pain he had felt and tried in vain to shoulder. When I pulled away, Eddie was smiling through his tears at me. He had cried with me. Not for me. Not for himself. Just...with me. And I understood this man's heart that was so much like my own. I saw the pain in his eyes and the anger we feel when we want to fix all the injustices of the world but simply cannot. I knew that he had a wealth of kindness and compassion that few would ever notice because they couldn't see past his circumstances...they couldn't see him. Wouldn't see him. I understood that. I felt that.
"Thank you for your service, Eddie."
There was a man standing over us with his hand held out. I blinked in confusion and the man repeated, "Thank you for your service in Vietnam."
"Vietnam?" I choked out. He hadn't breathed a word of it.
Eddie was nodding at the man. "Yeah...I was with the MPs in '71-'72...I volunteered for the draft." With that last part, he chuckles to himself and shakes his head, sucking in a long, slow drag from his cigarette he'd forgotten about. He looked off again and said softly, "There was a kid I had to leave behind." His voice caught off, broken from emotion and pain. "Couldn't do a thing to save him. Just couldn't."
And I sat there and stared.
How in the world had I found Eddie? I felt like he was part of me. How strange is that? I felt like he was someone I wanted to sit beside all day long and let him cloak me with an arm across my shoulders. I'd sit in his haze of cigarette smoke and the smell of stale booze, but I would be okay. I would be somewhere that was kind...and safe...and compassionate.
But maybe I am wrong.
Maybe I have Eddie all wrong.
I doubt it, though.
For that twenty minutes or so that I sat on the curb with him, I felt God sitting beside us too. Eddie is one of those few humans that you come across that you can see the image of God shining through and notice the thumbprint of the Maker still upon him. It didn't seem to matter that life had chipped away at Eddie and roughed up his corners. It didn't matter that his hair was long and his hands were dirty...or that we were sitting on a curb in an alley with other homeless men. God's handiwork was still evident all over Eddie. I could see Him, feel His presence, and smell that sweet fragrance of roses and oil...
And that was Eddie.
Full of kindness.
Be kind, friends. We all bear His image. All of us.
Oh, dear hearts, please be kind. You do not know the stories and the tears and the pain of those you can't stand to look at. See them. Notice them. Love them...and be kind.