(Editor's note: Reader Callie Murray shares her thoughts on the death of a neighborhood homeless man)
We met you the first day we moved to Augusta. You introduced yourself as Clarence Davis, and you weren't homeless but just "down on your luck". You explained that you knew the previous owners and that you used to rake their leaves and that you were HIV positive and could we please give you a little work ? You raked our yard that day and didn't complain once about the heat, although you were sweating so much I'm not sure how you could see to finish the job.
You started coming by every few days, and after the first few times we had to tell you that we didn't have enough leaves to rake or enough money to pay you for you to come so often. Finally one day, you shook your head and chuckled a little and you said, "Miss Callie, I done begged myself out now didn't I?"
You always found a way to make me laugh, and you told me once that the Bible said that if you don't make people laugh, then you're not doing your job. It may not have been sound theology, but it was a good practice nonetheless, and I appreciated the stories you would tell me and the wisdom you would share.
We came to an agreement and officially hired you as our yard man. You came twice a month, once on the first and once on the fifteenth, and we paid you $20 each time to take care of our yard. We were able to budget for you this way, always having $20 in cash on hand, and you were able to count on this income, but it still didn't change the frequency in which you stopped by to visit.
You came to talk or to ask for apple juice or to see my baby, who you loved watching grow up. You would take her hands in yours and every motherly instinct in me wanted to pull her away from yours, which were so full of mud and sweat and HIV, but there was something about your soul that I knew was clean enough to make up for the outside. We would sit on my front porch and rock in the rocking chairs and you would talk and I would smile.
You always seemed to come by at the most inconvenient times, usually when I had just put the baby down for a nap. I would be sitting down to my laptop to finally get some work done and you would knock on the front door and peek in through the top window, sending my dog into a barking fit, making the baby cry. Most days I would feel this wave of frustration at the interruption, and then I'd open the door and you would smile and tell me that look! the Lord had given you another day.
On one day in particular, I was alone in this house, overwhelmed with the pressure of gaining more website hits and expanding my business to new markets and growing bigger and wider and faster. It felt so important and so necessary, like my worth and my success and my impact would be defined by how many Facebook fans we had. I wanted to tell you to leave when you knocked that day, that I had too much important work to do, but instead we sat in our rocking chairs and you told me about your big fight.
A man accused you of stealing a lawnmower. I myself knew immediately that the man was wrong in his accusation, first because you were honest to a fault (you once admitted to sleeping in our shed on a rainy night, and you told us just because you said it felt wrong to keep anything from us) and second because that lawnmower was ours. We had put a lock on our shed that only you and my husband knew the combination to, and we had given you permission to use the lawnmower whenever you needed it for work. The man had no reason for the accusation other than the color of your skin and the condition of your clothing.
You said that you told that man that you were no thief, and then you told me something that changed the trajectory of my business. And my life.
"Miss Callie," you admitted, "that man made me angry, but do you know what I did? I told him about Jesus, because even my enemies need to know about Jesus. In fact, they're the ones that need to know about him the most."
In my world of aiming to reach wide, I had overlooked reaching deep. If my website had a million hits each month but I failed to build a relationship or make a personal impact, what had I accomplished? If everyone in this world knew the name of my business but not the name of Christ, what impact had I made? You have very little in the eyes of this world Clarence, but you have it all in the eyes of the One who made you.
You didn't come by on the 15th of November to do your yard work, and we wondered if you had found a place in the shelter on the other side of town. You used to tell us that you were "schizophrenic" because you forgot things sometimes, but we knew you wouldn't forget us, not on the first or the fifteenth. When Christmas rolled around and we didn't see you, we started to worry. I googled your name to see if you had been picked up by the police but found nothing. Another man came by asking to rake the ever-growing pile of leaves in our yard and we told him no thanks, that the job was already taken.
It's the middle of January now, and my friend called today and told me that she had some bad news. She found out that you were killed two months ago, struck by a car while you were crossing an intersection on your bicycle, about a half a mile from our house. You died that night at the Medical College Hospital, and a mutual friend who is a student there found the record of your death, listed under your birth name Parnell. I found one news article about you, saying only that a homeless man was struck and killed and that you were at fault for the incident. Your obituary simply provided the date of your death.
Your death didn't make the cover of Time magazine, there was no biography published after your passing, mourners didn't lay flowers at your graveside, you didn't even have a memorial service. But as I told my husband the news of your passing today and we hugged and cried together in the kitchen, I can tell you that your impact may not have been wide, but it was deep.
I often wondered if God sent you to me on those afternoons, and sometimes I wondered if it was Jesus himself asking me for something cold to drink or telling me that he loved the way I smiled. You said once, "You know that I love you and Mr. David and that baby of yours, right?", but we never needed to hear you say those words. You lived them, and yes, we knew.
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. - Hebrews 13:2
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