My trunk is full of groceries as I pull up to the corner and turn on my blinker.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a man standing near me, leaning on a cane, wearing a black coat and a hat to ward off the cold wind. He’s selling newspapers for $1.
I reach for my wallet, pull out a dollar bill and push the button to roll down my window.
“Hey!” I call to him.
He starts towards me, slow and steady. “Thank you!” he takes the dollar, handing me a newspaper.
“How are you doin’ today?” I ask, glancing at the red light. I might just have enough time to hear his answer.
He leans in, “I’m 71 and still kickin’!”
I smile back and then prod a little. “And…to what do you credit the fact that you’re still kickin’?”
He beams, “The good Lord. He’s taken care of me. He healed me from cancer. He gives me the strength to be out here.” He looks down. Tears drip down his cheeks and off the end of his nose, dripping onto the pavement. I’m amazed by this man’s gratitude, right here on the street corner.
The light turns green, but there aren’t any cars behind me. Suddenly, I don’t mind if my frozen peas are thawing.
“I think that’s pretty incredible. You’re an inspiration to me, today, you know that?”
He continues, “I can’t credit anyone but the good Lord.”
The light turns yellow. “What’s your name?” I ask.
The light turns.
“Red. Well, actually, my real name is Henry but they call me Red. I used to be a professional boxer.”
A car pulls up behind me.
“Wow! A professional boxer. I’ll bet you have quite the story.”
I decide then and there, I need to hear it.
When the light turns again, I pull into the nearest gas station, park my car and walk back across the street. He’s surprised to see me again.
“I like to write about people who do a good job of communicating the love of God. And that’s you. Right here on this street corner. Can we talk for a minute?”
He nods. “Sure we can.” He makes his way to a low stone wall and sits down. I sit, too.
I ask questions. He details snapshots from his hard life- his 31 years in the penitentiary, his painful, degenerative bone disease that’s slowly killing him, his addiction to whiskey because he can’t get pain meds, the struggle to pay his rent by selling newspapers.
I can’t fix any of it, but I can listen. Because I don’t know how often his voice is heard or valued.
Lately I’ve been reading a book by communication professor, Quentin Schultze, called, Communicating for Life. In it, Schultze encourages all of us to “empower the voiceless,” listening and giving a voice to those who are marginalized, like Red.
Despite his pain, his demeanor is one of deep gratitude. “God’s taking care of me,” he smiles.
“Thanks, Red. Thanks for sharing your story with me. And for greeting me with a smile and crediting the good Lord. You’re making a difference on this street corner.”
I reach in my pocket and pull out a few more dollars. “I know you missed some newspaper sales while you were talking to me. So, thanks.”
“Thanks, dear,” he says, taking the money.
I stand up. “Well, I need to get home. I’ve got four boys to go take care of.”
“Four boys?” He stands, incredulous. Then he smiles, “Boy, you are busy!”
That I am. I chuckle all the way back to my car and my thawing peas, drive home, unpack groceries and thank the good Lord for Red, for the way he is communicating life and hope right there on his street corner.
If you think of it, pray strength for him, especially in these cold winter months. And if you see him, tell him the girl with the 4 boys says hi.
Schultze, Quentin J. Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000. 109. Print.