I walked back over to him. All he had on were shorts. No shirt. Barefeet. I stood next to the debris with him and said, “It’s okay brother. I will stand right here while you clean up your things. I won’t go anywhere.”
This past Thursday morning I was walking to work trying to keep up a solid pace to make it to my once-a-week hula practice at the office. I had spent the evening before at Queen’s Hospital visiting a dear friend and co-worker in Emergency and that, combined with other events of the day, led me to a restless night of serious reflection on my role and purpose in this World. I was questioning Ke Akua’s plans for me. I rarely have doubts but I let Ego drive my pity party instead of continuing to let my usually unbreakable Faith in Ke Akua soothe any heartaches.
I quickly stopped by Walgreens on the way to work, and when I emerged from the store, a middle-aged man greeted me upon my exit. He immediately began asking me questions, in a rapid pace, while scratching his head, and darting his eyes between my eyes, the ground, and the sky. I immediately recognized this behavior as a form of Autism. I realized I was in the presence of a gifted individual.
He had found someone’s handheld device USB cord on the ground, front the store, and erupted into a barrage of questions to me as to how to properly dispose of the cord. The options ran quickly from giving it to the police who were sitting in a cruiser next to PetCo, giving it to me, going into Walgreens and giving it to the manager, or keeping it for himself. No sooner had I uttered a few words then he immediately started a new succession of questions regarding what ifs on every possible choice. What if the Police couldn't find the owner? What if the Walgreens’ Manager didn’t give it to the right person? What if it wasn’t really a phone cord? What if he kept it but it couldn’t work on his phone? Questions and answers led to more question and answers in rapid succession. I could hardly keep up…and I could hardly keep from chuckling in comedic disbelief.
Although I was in a hurry, I realized he was genuinely interested in doing the right thing, such that it pained him to possibly make the wrong choice. The conversation quickly turned to other matters as he showed me his own cell phone and began a barrage of questions in quick succession about phones, cords, computers, 3G and 4G networks, iPhones, Galaxys, iPads, and my knowledge and opinions on a host of issues. No sooner had I answered one inquiry, then it led immediately to a follow up question. It was more amusing than irritating and I enjoyed talking with him, trying to clear his mind. I literally could not walk away without cutting him off and being extremely rude. Meanwhile, people walked into and out of Walgreens looking amusedly on this spectacle of a conversation right in front of the store.
Then out of the blue, Doug, as he eventually introduced himself to me, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Are you a photographer? Do you take beautiful pictures of people?” My heart skipped a beat, and I immediately looked at Doug, and wondered if I knew him from somewhere else. Could he be a Facebook friend? Was something going on here other than a chance meeting with a stranger? Did he know I was a photographer? I let him know that I do photography as a hobby and do like to take pictures of all kinds of things. He immediately pulled out his iPhone and quickly said in rapid succession, “Should we take a picture together? You and me? So I can show my friends? Are you somebody famous? Should we take a picture together so I can show it to people?”
I chuckled as I said, “Sorry Doug, I’m a nobody, and certainly not famous” as I imagined him collecting pictures of himself next to local celebrities to show his friends. I said, “Doug, your friends would look at our picture together and laughingly say, ‘Who the heck is that?’… We both laughed.
Then before I could process anymore of Doug’s photo request…he looked me straight in the eye, and said in a slower calmer voice, “Are you a carpenter…”
As soon as those words were uttered, a chill ran up my back and neck and my heart momentarily fluttered. A vision of Jesus, the tekton, or carpenter as many believe, flashed into my head. I looked at Doug more intently and tried to discern if this was an innocent random question out of the blue or some other Divine message.
I said I wasn’t a carpenter and asked him if he was one. He said no. He then asked me about other electronic and computer topics, asking me about my work, my family, other person inquiries.
Before long, I looked at the time, and apologized to Doug for having to run but I was running late for work. He continued talking to me and asking more questions as I slowly put distance in between us. I gently over talked him some, as I walked away looking back and waving simultaneously, “Alright Doug, I really have to go! Nice meeting you! You take care! I love you brother! I’ll see you again, I know….” Then I turned away and started walking at an accelerated pace towards work.
I ended up on Young Street and about a block away, I was approaching the rear entrance to Goodwill where people drop off their donations. From a distance, I could see a sandy blond haired man standing on the sidewalk, next to a shopping cart, and in the midst of an explosion of clothes, bottles, cans, papers, pieces of wood, garbage, and other debris all over the sidewalk. It was quite the mess. My initial thoughts from a distance were that a homeless individual had torn apart someone’s overnight donation to Goodwill left next to the closed donation entrance. I had seen that before where donated bags left overnight on the sidewalk are opened and rummages through by people needing clothes. But as I walked closer and closer, I could see the array of items spread out on the sidewalk. Bottles, cans, papers, pieces of wood, trash, etc. and realized it wasn’t a donation.
The man looked distressed, and somewhat neurotic, as he struggled to bend down, picked up items of clothing, looked at them, then quickly dropped them back down on the sidewalk, only to struggle to pick up another item, and after quickly examining it, drop it back down as well. He looked frantic and I didn’t know what to expect as I approached him. As usual, the thought of crossing the street prior to walking past him entered my mind, but I rarely do that. The sidewalk was impassable with about fifty square feet of belongings and trash strewn about.
Also, as I try to do every morning to every one I pass, I looked straight at his face, as I passed him, detouring onto the street, waiting for eye contact, to smile and say, “Aloha…”
No sooner had he looked at me, and I uttered those words, he started profusely apologizing to me. “I’m sorry I made a mess. So sorry. I’m trying to clean it up. It’s all over the place…” He seemed on the verge of tears as his voice broke slightly with emotion. As I walked passed him on the roadway, I looked back at him and smiled, saying, “It ‘s okay brother. It’s no big thing. It’s alright.”
I thought that was the end of it…but as I resumed my journey, I heard him yell in his same shaky voice, “Thank you! I’m really going to clean all of this up. Thank you for being nice to me…” I paused at his words because they ripped at my heart strings and I felt a little wave of emotion sweep through me. I stopped walking, turned around, took a few steps back towards him. I smiled again, and said, “It really is going to be alright brother.” He replied, “I really want to clean all of this up.” I said, “You can do it brother...take care my friend.” I turned to resume my journey and noticed a Goodwill worker emerge from the warehouse. She looked down at the man and his mess, shook her head, and walked back into the donation center.
I heard the man’s voice again behind me. He said, “Excuse me brother, could you stay right here for a bit, while I clean this up. I’m really scared…” I looked at him. Tears were streaming down his face. As I looked at him more closely, he was shaky and looked like he was in pain with difficulty moving about or even bending over. The woman came out again, with hands on hips, looking angrily at the man. I looked at her and said, “It’s okay, he is cleaning up the mess. Give him a little time.” She didn’t look pleased and walked back inside.
I walked back over to him. All he had on were shorts. No shirt. Barefeet. I stood next to the debris with him and said, “It’s okay brother. I will stand right here while you clean up your things. I won’t go anywhere.”
He said, “Oh thank you…thank you…I’ll clean this up right now.” He hobbled over and started shuffling through papers and clothes on the ground, trying to sweep them together in a little pile with his hands. He picked up a little laundry bag and showed it to me. He said, “Look what I found the other day, it is really nice. I can put some things in here.”I told him the bag was nice.
With any hope of making it to hula practice on time quickly fading, I stood there contemplating what to do next. He grabbed some pieces of plywood and some other pieces of wood and showed them to me as he moved them about trying to fit them together. “Look how beautiful this wood is….I can make you a table!” I smiled. He then persisted, “I can’t thank you enough. I can use this to make you a nice table. How high do you want it?” I thanked him and said it was very kind but I have everything I need now. I said, “You can make a table and give it to someone who could really use it.” He smiled and said that was a great idea.
A weird feeling came over me as I thought about the wood and his offer…and I asked him, “Are you a carpenter?” I was almost afraid of his impending answer. He smiled and said, “No…I’m a painter.” With a weird sense of relief, I said, “Awesome…”
At the rate he was hobbling around, still looking in pain, I decided to jump in and help him. I started picking up bottles and cans, and said, “Why don’t I start by gathering all of your empties for you.” He told me he was going to turn them in to the nearby redemption center to get some food.” I asked him if I could use some of his plastic bags on the sidewalk to put them all into.” He suggested I could use the little dirty empty suitcase splayed open on the sidewalk next to him. I started helping him clean up what I was able to, while people walked past us, in both directions, giving us a wide array of looks at they detoured into the street around this explosion of trash on the sidewalk.
At one point, I picked up a plastic coke bottle with a yellow liquid inside. I thought it might be urine, but dared not open it and pour it out, so I discreetly put it into the suitcase with the other bottles and cans feeling a pang of guilt. The thought of contracting some disease crossed my mind as I picked up clothing and all kinds of dirty things…but released all of my concerns into the Grace of Ke Akua.
The sidewalk started to look better. At one point, I reached out my hand and said, “My name is Kai.” He smiled and extended his dirty shaky hand, “I’m Freddy.” I said, “ Nice to meet you Freddy.” He then smiled and said, I felt the Holy Spirit when you walked up to me. I felt a burst of emotion hit me and tears began streaming down my face for no apparent reason. I tried to turn to hide it, and discreetly wiped my eyes with my shirt sleeve.
Freddy began digging through papers, trash and clothes on the sidewalk. He said, “My Bible is in here somewhere. I want to show you.” Then he looked up at me and said, help me find my Jesus in here.” I started to feel like I was in some type of surreal situation where there were hidden cameras or something. Not truly understanding what Freddy was referring to…he slid trash around until he excitedly exclaimed, “Here it is!”
He held up a five inch Jesus nailed to a cross…but without the wooden cross, only the brass Saviour. “I found this Kai…he stays with me.” He then picked up a piece of wood, one of the pieces he offered to make me a table with, and broke it in half with his foot against the cement wall, then broke it again, until he held a shattered piece of wood. He placed his Jesus against it, and asked me how did it look. I said, “That looks nice…” He smiled and said he would fix Jesus later. He then started talking about the church he went to two night ago, and asked me if I knew it. I didn’t recognize the name, but asked him where it was. He said it was in downtown. He talked about all the people who were nice to him, who believed in him, who prayed for him. He said one person even gave him five dollars. “How nice was that Kai?” he exclaimed excitedly. He said, “I rebuke Meth…it is Satan. I’m going to change my life, Kai…with the Holy Spirit.”
I said, “That’s right Freddy…you are going to change your life. You can do it. Keep the Spirit with you always. Stay away from drugs…far away.”
He then looked at me, and started crying, and said, “I just want to be a Father, Kai, I just want to be a good Father.” He put his face into this hands and openly wept. People walked past, some slowing down to look at the drama we were presenting. He looked up me…and said, “My little girl…my beautiful girl. You have no idea….” as he began sobbing again. I couldn’t help but cry myself, not knowing if he lost his child, she died, or what had happened. I asked him what had happened, almost dreading the answer. He said while he was locked up, it was the last time he saw his daughter. “Her Mother told her that I was dead. That I had died. I’m still alive, Kai…but I am dead.” He then began sobbing again.
I was overcome with intense emotion, being a Father myself, as tear fells from my eyes as well. I tried to focus on the task at hand, still picking up pieces of clothing, trash, ephemera, trying to discern what should go back into his shopping cart, and what should be discarded. Just then I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye someone standing about twenty feet away watching intently Freddy and I pick up trash together.
When my eyes were able to focus properly not having the best distance eyesight I once used to possess, I recognized that it was Doug standing there, quietly watching us. Again, I felt sucked into a surreal World of slight confusion as to what was really happening here.
I smiled at Doug, but focused back on Freddy. I asked him questions about himself and we talked for a good twenty-minutes while we cleaned up the area. I learned he had lived on Kaua’i and was a surfer. The people he knew from Hanalei and Ha’ena were some of the people I knew. He described some of them very accurately so I knew he was telling the truth. He talked about how he had experimented with drugs and was swept away into a World of Demons. He lost all of his friends. When he was incarcerated, his daughter was taken from him.
He cried again, pleading, “I just want to be a good Father again. I haven’t seen my daughter in years…” He then found his Bible, in two parts, and held them up together to show me. “If you pray for me, Kai…and be my friend, I can do it. Believe in me…and I will renounce meth forever…” I said, “Freddy, I do believe in you. I will pray for you. You can do it brother.”
He stood up and dropped another pile of gathered clothes into his shopping cart, and hobbled over to the other side of the shopping cart with his Bible. “Come look, Kai!” He exclaimed as he motioned me to come to him as he flipped through his Bible. It was then that I noticed one of his feet looked swollen and infected. I asked him about it. He lifted it up painfully, and showed it to me. It didn’t look good. I realized why he had been hobbling around earlier.
I stood next to him, and he opened up his Bible which was literally torn in two. He flipped through it quickly until he came to the part he was looking for, the Book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. Malachi, one of the prophets of God. Freddy then began following the words with his finger as he read exerpts aloud to me.
“An now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. The law of truh was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips; he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”
Freddy paused and looked up at me, smiled, and then flipped a page back and forth, and continued his reading…
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts. Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Eli'jah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
Freddy closed his book and looked up at me all smiles again with tears in his eyes. I thought about the words…”he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…” and said, “Freddy, you can stop meth. You can be the Father to your daughter she needs.” Freddy looked up at me, and said, “I can if you pray for me, Kai. Right? If you are my friend, right? If you believe in me…” I said, “…of course my friend…”
Freddy then said, I need to let you go, you don’t know how much I needed your help this morning. I’m so sorry I am making you late. How can I see you again?”
Before I could even answer, Freddy interjected, “I know you need to be anonymous, I don't want to bother you again and you don’t have to give me your contact information, but do you know Caravan? They help me, and give me a post office box in Kaimuki. You can leave a note for me, Freddy, there, if you want to. I said, “Don’t worry brother…if you have a piece of paper, I can write my name and phone number in case you ever want to get ahold of me.”
Freddy began searching frantically for a pencil or pen. He found a large marker and tested it on the inside of his arm and was ready to write my name and number on his arm in large indelible ink letters. I said, you should really find a piece of paper, it would be better. I found a little piece of paper on the ground and wrote my name and cell number. I gave it to him and he read it, smiled and tucked it into his Bible. He then tore a corner of his Bible cover off an wrote his full name out. He also wrote “Holy Spirit came…”
I thanked him and he said, “Please pray for me, Kai.” I asked him if I could pray for him right now before I head to work. He lit up and smiled as he embraced me. I hugged him tight and as I held him, I could see clearer the meth ravaged teeth. The tangles in his dirty matted hair. As I squeezed him, he started sobbing, and I started sobbing too. I prayed my heart out. I was oblivious to the stares of people still walking past and around us on the sidewalk, at the unfolding drama. I was just aware of their presence.
When I finished, and we released our embrace, Freddy said, “You smell great. You Hawaiians always smell great!” I chuckled thinking about my application of deodorant that morning. I shook Freddy’s hand, and he said “I love you Kai!” I said, “I love you Freddy!” I discreetly opened my wallet and found $20 inside. I put it in his hand and looked him in the eye, and said, “Food Freddy…nothing else.” He smiled as tear streamed down his face and he said, “I won’t let you down, Kai…I won’t let my daughter down anymore…” I said, “God be with you brother…you can do it…” He looked up at the sky, held his hands up with one half of the Bible in each one and exclaimed, “I renounce you Meth. In the name of my daughter!”
As I walked away, Freddy yelled, “Don’t forget to pray for me, Kai! Keep believing in me!” I smiled, as tears began to fall again. Before turning back, I noticed Doug in the distance, still standing quietly and motionless, having watched the whole scene unfold. I gave him a wave and quickened my pace to work hoping he wouldn’t catch up with me and start a barrage of questions again.
I have never gone to organized church on Sundays and sometimes feel guilty when my boys ask me why we don’t go to church on Sunday like many of their friends do. It seems that in my life, the church somehow comes to me. In the streets, amidst the filth and concrete, and in the most unusual places of human suffering. If you open your eyes and heart. The prophets and messengers abound in the most unlikely unexpected forms. The sermons are delivered by priests of suffering…straight from the Almighty Source Himself.
When I selfishly question Ke Akua’s love for me…I find the answers delivered to me in amazingly and profoundly meaningful ways…I shall continue to put my total Faith in my Lord and Saviour in the Highest Service I can muster. And I shall continue to love my brothers and sisters, with all of my heart.
Once again, my plans are not always His plans…and I am reminded to be perfectly and contently fine with this in the humblest gratitude of the amazing beauty of this incredible Blessed Life. Mahalo my brothers Freddy and Doug. Mahalo Ke Akua…Iesū pū…