He really didn’t look like an angel.
No, seriously. Not like an angel at all. Not that I was looking for one.
It was Monday morning, after all. There isn’t time to drink more than a few sips of my coffee at a time, much less be on watch for the stray angel.
Anyway, the first thing I noticed was his haircut. In some places, the hair on his head was sticking out in tufts, but it was shaved to the scalp in others. The only almost-normal thing about the haircut was the bushy pair of Elvis-style sideburns. No, he didn’t look at all like my idea of an angel.
He didn’t smell like an angel, either.
At nine-thirty on Monday morning, one doesn’t expect to smell alcohol on a person’s breath, but there it was, almost making the air stiff as he talked. I wondered about that. What would make a man drink on a Monday morning? I still don’t know the precise answer, but I do know he was unhappy.
I helped him find the items he needed. As I gave him choices, he didn’t want to make them.
“I trust you completely, Paul.” He said the words twice.
I know he meant it, but I’m always uncomfortable with being trusted completely. I have been known to misunderstand what customers need. The result isn’t always pretty. But, that sentiment was about to be driven out of my thoughts. You see, just as I was ringing up the sale and he was digging under his tee shirt for his debit card (I still don’t know exactly where it had been stashed), I noticed his arms.
Angels don’t cut themselves, do they?
The deep cuts in his skin nearly took my breath away. It took me a second of two, but the proximity of each cut and the regular pattern of the gashes on his forearms left no question as to how they had gotten there. He was definitely a cutter, a self-mutilator. I’ve never known anyone with this problem–not that I was aware of anyhow. That said, I do know that this type of behavior comes from a low self image, and the depression that accompanies thoughts of incompetence. It was already evident that he had just such problems.
He had forgotten an item, so we found it and I helped him make another choice. A third time, the words were spoken, “I trust you completely, you know.”
This time I had an answer–sort of. I reminded him that I didn’t always make good choices for myself, let alone for other people. He admitted that he knew I was human too (I really am, you know).
My next words were unplanned. “You know, when I fall down, I just get up. Everybody falls sometimes.”
He struggled with that a moment. “I’m trying to get up, I guess.” Moments later he headed for the door.
“Come back anytime you want.” I said. “I’m here ‘most every day.”
He looked back at me through bleary eyes. “If I’m still around, I’ll come back.”
I wasn’t sure if I would ever see him again. It’s hard to tell if you get through to people when they are impaired chemically, much less someone with the emotional baggage this man was living with. It took only moments to find out the answer to that question.
His old battered pickup hadn’t been gone from the parking lot for five minutes when it pulled back up to the front door. I wondered how this conversation would go, but it turned out that he only wanted directions to a different business on the same street. I gave him instructions to the place, only a block away.
He replied, “I’m so stupid. I’ll get lost; I know I will.”
I suggested that it wasn’t stupidity at all, but just that he needed better instructions. I walked outdoors with him and to the street, where I pointed out the sign and parking lot of the business he wanted. As we walked back toward his truck, he seemed encouraged.
“If we weren’t out here, I’d give you a hug.”
I’ve mentioned that I don’t really do the hugging thing, right? But this guy needed the touch of another human. I reached out my hand and gripped his firmly for a moment, finishing the action with a manly half-hug. He was surprised, but quickly returned the grip, squeezing my hand like a vise.
I said the only words I had at that moment. “God bless you, friend.”
There was a smile on his face for the first time. “I’ll come back to see you soon.”
I believe he will.
Angel? Probably not.
Still–I don’t know.
“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it.”
“At the end of the day, compassion and love will win.”
(Terry Waite~English humanitarian and author)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.