I saw him approaching out of the corner of my eye as I sat on a park bench. The well-shaded grounds of the State Hospital is a spot frequented by local office dwellers escaping for quiet lunches on warm summer days, and that’s what I was doing there. But that’s not what he was doing there. The thirty-something year-old looked around nervously and asked if he could sit down.
Psychiatric patients at the hospital can receive permission to stroll outside during the day, but they’re not allowed to talk to the public. I knew this, and reluctantly I motioned him to sit.
His story was a bit shocking, but I didn’t flinch. Apparently I was the first person in the park who didn’t walk away from him, especially “after they found out I was gay,” he said.
We talked on a variety of subjects including his reasons for being admitted. Before we parted, he let me pray for him. This was not something I normally did, praying with strangers, and most people would think it crazy. But I was there, and I went with it.
I opened my eyes and noticed him staring at me. We said “Amen,” and he thanked me. He said that was the first time someone had done that for him.
I went back to work, and he went back to the psych ward. I never saw him again. Seems crazy, I guess.
A Sobering Conversation
And there was the alcoholic roaming the downtown streets who hit me and one of my colleagues up one afternoon for cash. We didn’t want to give him money because we didn’t believe he wanted it for food, so we called his bluff.
We were right.
I told him honesty will get him further than lying. He told me to go to hell. I told him I’m already going to Heaven, but thanks for the offer. He looked at me funny.
We talked for a while, and I found out he knew a relative of mine through Alcoholics Anonymous. (So much for that anonymous part.) He said if we weren’t going to give him any money, could we at least drive him to a friend’s house? My colleague and I offered him a deal—if we drove him, he’d let us pray for him. “Fine,” he said, rolling his eyes.
On the drive, he told us he was mad at life—and people. We listened, and after pulling over to the curb, he let us pray for him. We opened our eyes to find him staring at us.
He thanked us for the prayer, and also for keeping our cool when he got mad about the money thing. “Usually people just walk away after that,” he said.
I still remember looking at him in the rear-view mirror, just standing there as we drove away, staring at us. Crazy.
Donuts Have Hidden Benefits
And how could I ever forget that Saturday morning walking out of the donut shop. It was 6:00 a.m.
A teenager wearing a hoodie appeared from behind my car. That’s shady, I thought. He asked me for something I rarely (if ever) would do for a stranger when I’m by myself. He needed a ride home.
I looked at his hands, hidden in his pockets. “Are you cool?” I said.
He looked at my hands, holding a box of donuts. “Are you?” he replied.
He showed me his empty pockets. I showed him a dozen donuts. We both smiled.
“Get in,” I said.
He commented on how nice my minivan was. “You must have a good job,” he said.
I asked about his barely sixteen year-old life. He told me how bad it was. A father he hated. A mother strung out. He slept wherever he could on weekends to stay away from the problems.
I told him his life wouldn’t always be that way, that he might feel like he doesn’t have a choice right now, but one day things would be different. He didn’t ask me for money, and he declined my offer of a Bavarian cream.
As we pulled into the driveway of a rundown home, I asked if I could pray for him. He looked at me as if I were crazy. “Uh—sure,” he said.
At one point while praying I noticed dead silence. I opened my eyes, mostly to make sure this kid wasn’t pulling something on me. He wasn’t.
He was just sitting there. Staring at me.
“Amen,” I said.
He repeated it. “Nobody has ever done that for me.”
I promptly shared with him that picking up strangers from a donut shop at 6:00 a.m. is not my norm. He said he hoped that, one day, he could do that for somebody.
I told him the crap he was going through, although nearly impossible to see at the moment, could make a difference in someone’s life someday. I think for the first time, the kid felt a sense of purpose.
What You Will See
I don’t know. It seems crazy sometimes. Praying people. We pray for others. We pray for ourselves. We speak words into the open air, most of the time with our eyes closed, trusting the words are doing more than falling from our lips.
A few of the most memorable for me are the ones above, because I didn’t go looking for it. They were unscripted. And honestly, I didn’t want to do it because I felt foolish. Crazy even.
But each time I opened my eyes and saw them staring back at me, I could see things—disbelief, anger, confusion, despair—replaced by something quite the opposite. In those moments, we each saw something neither of us were expecting to see. We saw hope.