Waiting in my car at the Walmart, I saw him approach from the side mirror. Instant decision...roll up the window or see what happens. It was a brilliantly beautiful day and the store was brand new so I felt safe. Not sure why. A voice said take a chance and talk to him if he talks to you. Tattooed and a little drunk he told me his story. He lived in a tent in the woods just beyond the parking lot, and had just survived one of our worst winters in history. It was his third tent. One had blown away and another had been destroyed by a mutually panicked deer. His name was Joey and he was 47 years old. He had lived in the woods for 2 years now. He was forbidden to beg from Walmart shoppers on the parking lot. So we agreed if he was stopped we were just friends having a conversation. His mother lived in senior housing high rise nearby but he was not allowed to visit her after being found sleeping in the lobby. He hadn't seen his father for decades and doubted he would even recognize him. His father had died in in his heart. Before they closed the nearby Catholic church Fr. Bob had let him sleep and shower in the abandoned convent, and even made dinner for him now and then. But that was all over now. Joey loved God, would read his bible in his tent until it got dark. He was currently into Corinthians. Once he went to a nearby Baptist church for bible study but forgot it wasn't Sunday. The church was closed. Proud that he was drug free for 4 months Joey admitted he still needed vodka in the morning to control the shakes. Frustrated he lamented he just couldn't take life much longer. The spider bites, the rain, the despair...it was all too much. On April 5 he had remembered it was his birthday and cried bitterly. There was no cards, no cake, no recognition by anyone that he was alive. We talked about AA and places for help, but he admitted he still loved alcohol too much to give it up. I told him unless he controlled it in the end it would win. Briefly, slightly wistfully he acknowledged the demon but then changed the subject. Although I was 10 minutes passed giving him a few bucks, I was drawn to give more even though he didn't ask for it. I told him that God didn't forget his birthday and gave him 20 dollars. He was someone and he got a birthday present no matter what he did with it. His joy was intense.
So there we were on the Walmart parking lot surrounded by people buying more stuff. It was strange to find a man with nothing at a place that boasts it has everything. I wondered who was richer Joey or the shoppers. I reminded Joey that Jesus had little of this world just like him. They were friends, Jesus and him, travelling the cruel way of the cross. But now and then He uses someone to remind the crucified that are not forgotten and are so loved in their passion and suffering. Joey and I parted as friends and he went off to Burger King for dinner. The sun was setting over all of the franchises and the cars continued their endless suburban parade. America 2010.