He was back again today. I’ve told you before about some of my “always with me” friends. The reference is to what Jesus had to say about the poor being with us always. Over the years, I seem to have collected a fair number of folks who know me well enough to feel comfortable asking for favors, or loans, or even a handout once in awhile. There was a time when I believed they could all be changed with education and patience. Call it cynicism if you like, but I have finally been convinced otherwise.
My buddy Thad, standing before me, is a great example of this. In the late seventies, when I first started as an employee in the music store, he was also a young man; ready to take the world by storm, in much the same way as most of my generation planned to do. And, he had the tools to do it, too. Thad was an amazing guitarist and possessed a voice to match, causing a stir every time he let loose at the local bar or one of the frequent “benefits” staged for folks in need. He was going places!
Today, he came in once more, instrument in hand and asked me in a quiet voice, “Paul, if you could loan me thirty dollars on this old guitar, I’ll pay you back forty on the first of the month.” It’s a scene that has been played out more times than I can count over the last thirty-some years. Oh, there has been a trip or two to Nashville and even a few recordings on the shelves at the local stores, but there was never really a chance that he was going to “make it”. You see, Thad has been groomed from a very young age to fail in whatever endeavor he undertook. He was taught, not in a malicious way, that the world wouldn’t let him succeed. His parents loved him and treated him as well as they could, but his father was an alcoholic and his mother wasn’t healthy, nor very strong, so they went on government assistance. For all of his life, the “first of the month” was payday, since that was when the government checks were delivered. It was only natural for his adult life to be the same. Even with every chance to succeed as a studio musician, any obstacle, any setback that came along was just par for the course, and only more proof that he couldn’t succeed.
Nerves and stress led to alcohol abuse, which led to drug abuse, the cumulative effect of which led to the nearly complete breakdown of his health. Food stamps and disability followed, never enough to get his family through the month, necessitating visits to businesses like mine, selling first the nice instruments; later buying and selling, in an unrelenting cycle, the basic instruments he required to keep performing at small gigs, which kept a little supplemental income arriving at opportune times for a bender or maybe even more medicine for the incredible litany of afflictions which attacked more and more often. I became convinced that his poverty is permanent and irrevocable a couple of months ago. One day, out of the blue, Thad came in with cash (CASH!) and purchased a new guitar and a digital piano. He had never done such a thing before and I remarked on it. “Yeah! I got a gig that paid me two thousand dollars for three nights work!” he exclaimed excitedly. I was hopeful that he would use the money wisely, maybe even put some of it back into savings for future expenses, but that hope was scuttled by his next remark. “I already went to the casino with it and won another four hundred dollars. I’m going back to win some more tonight!” He was back the very next week to sell me the guitar and piano.
Kind of depressing, isn’t it? It’s even more so, when you multiply his story by hundreds in our town and thousands upon thousands across our great land. Even so, I would argue that I’m blessed. Blessed to know these folks, and blessed to be able to share with them even in a very small way from the plenty that I have been given. It doesn’t always feel like a blessing, dealing with the sad continuous cycle, hearing the stories (many of them contrived) of hardship. Even through the disappointment and dreariness, I think I’ll keep doing what’s required; sharing with them when the opportunity is presented. I will also continue doing another thing which I have done for years now; praying for the folks I have been privileged to share with. I pray for them to break free of the prison of poverty and feeling like victims. I also share my faith along with the gift whenever they have time to listen, but many of them, like Thad, know the words and can immediately shift into piousness when prodded by any mention of God.
Since it seems that I am already preaching, I will add that I urge you also to share of yourselves and your abundance. The bright spot in the blight of poverty and homelessness across our country is that the government can’t take away our opportunities to be servants. The “cups of cold water” you share now…who knows? They may bear fruit in changed lives and renewed spirits for some who have given up all hope. They may not, but either way, we are blessed as we serve.
I slipped Thad a little something and told him to keep the guitar. He needs it a lot more than I do. I do have a roomful of them already, you know.
“There is no delight in owning anything unshared.”
(Seneca~Roman philosopher~1st century AD)
“A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”