By Alan Bean
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
These old Paul Simon lyrics have been running like a soundtrack through the back of my mind for the past few days. My wife and I are homeless. We moved out of our old home late Friday night and couldn’t occupy our new place until Tuesday afternoon. Don’t ask how this happened. It’s a long story.
A technical and temporary kind of homelessness, to be sure. Not at all like the real homelessness some of my friends are forced to live with. We are staying in a motel that serves a hot breakfast. The Quality Inn is surround by The Highlands, a comically upscale shopping area where the muzak runs day and night and you can find an old-main-street shop hawking every imaginable kind of food and supplying every sort of consumer item.
We have two cars at our disposal, and plenty of credit cards.
We have wonderful friends who have helped with our mad dash midnight move and invited us to share fine meals in their gracious homes.
I have my father’s old classical guitar, so my musical addiction has been regularly sated.
We have H. Stephen Shoemaker’s wonderful God Stories to feed our hungry souls.
All our worldly belongings have been stuffed into a 17-foot U-Haul, a 26-foot Penske, and the garage and shed of our old home. Tomorrow, a team of movers will help us transfer this decadent haul into a lovely new home with four bedrooms, granite counter tops, and an over-the-top master bathroom.
Our real estate agent is even springing for the motel room, and most of our out-of-pocket expenses are covered during our brief time of exile.
So why do I feel so lost? Why has the mere fact that I have no home to go left me dazed and disoriented?
Our cat, Bandit, has been hiding under the shed at our old house for days now, refusing to come out. Why do I find it so easy to identify with her trauma?
I have been thinking (a lot) of the truly homeless people we have met through the ministry of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth. There is this guy who lives on the street because the crime that put him in prison for a decade makes it impossible for him to find work. For months now, I have been meeting him at the church door every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening and I remain at his elbow until it’s time for him to return to the shelter. He was baptized a few weeks ago and his “street family” showed up to witness the event. He said he was having a hard time dealing with the love and acceptance he was receiving from his Sunday school class.
But now he’s back in prison. We know that from another member of our Sunday School class who was also locked up for a few days. The two men met in jail just long enough to exchange a few words. The man, who is now incarcerated in a state prison in Brownwood, Texas, was arrested after failing to make a scheduled meeting with a case worker. It’s probably more complicated, but that’s all we know at this point.
The man who provided this information has been released from custody and allowed to move back into his bed bug-infested 150 square foot apartment on the poor end of Fort Worth. I had been bringing meals to the man and his partner every Wednesday night, otherwise I wouldn’t know about the bed bugs. When he was picked up by the police, his partner disappeared and no one has been able to locate her.
That’s what real homelessness looks like. I can’t go home for four days and am nonplussed. But thousands of people, many of whom I am privileged to know personally, experience a much deeper form of displacement on a daily basis. We see them cuing up for Broadway’s Agape meal every Thursday night. You know you are really homeless when there is no door you can lock to keep the world away. How does that feel? Frankly, I don’t want to know.
Another old Paul Simon lyric keeps intruding into my inner monologue:
She’s a rich girl, and she don’t try to hide it,
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes.
He was a poor boy, empty as a pocket,
Empty as a pocket, with nothing to lose . . .
She said, “Honey take me dancing,”
But they ended up by sleeping in a doorway . . .
We’re not supposed to move freely between the diamond-shoe-world and the empty-pocket-world. It’s like the parable in Luke where a great gulf is fixed twixt heaven and hell. But thanks to Jesus, and the church that keeps his Way alive in the world, I experience occasional glimpses of one world before returning to the other. It ain’t what the Bible calls righteousness, but it has allowed me to place my current plight in proper perspective even as I long for the comforts of home.