I looked up for a second and saw my bubbly three-year-old staring at me through the glass window at the indoor playground. He gave me a quick wink and a grin from ear to ear and then headed back up the jungle gym again.
It reminded me of the last time I saw my friend, Mr. Nash, and how our story ended perfectly in one sense. Just not quite the ending I wanted.
He was probably the grumpiest person on the floor and for some strange reason I was drawn to him. I walked past the recreation room several times trying not to look too obvious that I was spying on him. I noticed him sitting there by himself staring straight forward at the large television mounted to the wall. Taking a seat next to him, keeping my eyes focused on the TV, we sat in an awkward silence for a few minutes.
Without turning my head, I asked a generic question about the movie playing on the screen. Making eye contact, I noticed the piercing color of his eyes, sky blue. I still remember his cunning smile and the sparkle of deviousness in his eyes. “Kindred souls,” I thought. “We could definitely be friends.”
He was an older gentleman, probably early sixties. His skin was dark as night, which I would later realize was the result of many years on the streets. From then on I used the skin as a tell-tale sign of which patients were homeless, along with other traits.
Mr. Nash had a sharp mind with a lifetime of wisdom chiseled in. He had zero tolerance for fools, which resulted in zero patience. His lack of patience was evident when he purposely kicked another guy’s wheelchair. In all fairness, Mr. Nash did warn the guy several times to quit running over his toes. The able-bodied man in the chair was faking his disability and Mr. Nash called him out.
We sat in these hard, sand-filled, plastic chairs for hours. He was smart. He spouted off quotes and memorized Bible verses. Most of them with the general theme of wise men and fools. I recorded bits and pieces of his words with a blue crayon and a sheet of paper. He was an intriguing man and just the distraction I needed.
Aching for time outside in the sunshine, one of my favorite care takers snuck Mr. Nash and me out for a small reprieve. Under the pavilion, she sat across from the two of us on a well-worn picnic table.
The caretaker was a beautiful blonde-haired woman, mid-forties with a perfect smile. She had quickly taken me under her wing and I am forever grateful for her.
She noticed Mr. Nash’s eyes and gave him a compliment. He genuinely seemed shocked when she mentioned the deep blue color of his eyes, like he had never looked in a mirror.
“You’ve got some Caucasian in you,” she joked.
“It must be Thomas Jefferson,” he retorted.
We all laughed. I’ll always remember his witty, sharp sense of humor.
One afternoon, Mr. Nash and I sat under the bright fluorescent lights of the rec room again. Facing each other, he told me about some of his past life. Growing up in a poor house in New Orleans, he joined the Air Force at a young age traveling quite a bit. He returned to New Orleans to reunite with his family, until they were all displaced after Hurricane Katrina.
He ended up bouncing between the VA facilities in Biloxi and Mobile. At this point, it had been ten years since the storm and he hadn’t heard from his family much. He knew most of them ended up in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“You must miss your family?” I empathetically questioned.
“Every day,” he responded.
“Then why don’t you make your way down to St. Pete?”
It turns out, Mr. Nash didn’t have the means to get to Florida and the Veterans Affairs wouldn’t help with the relocation. When I asked if his family could help him out, he described their situation as “dirt poor.”
"What's the cheapest way to get to St. Pete?" I asked.
It turns out the Greyhound bus ran from Mobile through St. Pete. Without hesitation, I offered to pay for his bus ticket home. He didn’t ask for the help and I don’t think he ever intended on asking for help. He seemed very taken aback and he had the biggest smile on his face.
“You’d do that for me?” he asked.
“On one condition,” I responded. “Don’t lose your temper for the rest of your time here.”
We started making plans to get the bus ticket. He kept insisting that I buy the ticket, instead of giving him the cash. I then realized that Mr. Nash battled addiction. Whether it was alcohol, drugs, or gambling – I would never know. At the time, I didn’t have a way to get my hands on a bus ticket, but I could get my Mom to put sixty dollars in his box at the front desk.
Well, things didn’t go as planned. My Mom contacted my therapist to make sure that I wasn’t being taken advantage of. The therapists took us to different rooms. My heart sunk as I listened to her lecture. I wanted nothing more than to give him that bus ticket home. I understood why my Mom did what she did – she was only trying to protect me and I didn’t blame her.
I hurried out the room fervently looking down the hall for Mr. Nash. Immersed in the middle of a crowd at the nurses’ station, I spun around searching for him. Then she caught my gaze. The worker with the fake eyes as I described them. She wore these bright blue colored contacts like she was hiding something and for some reason this woman had a source of contempt for me.
“Are you looking for Mr. Nash? Oh, they are sending him back to the homeless shelter,” she smugly said. Without responding, I stared at her intently for a minute hiding the hurt in my chest as the guilt of the situation weighed heavily on my shoulders.
“She will not see me cry,” I remember thinking.
Then looking just passed her, I saw Mr. Nash standing in the crowded room behind the glass wall.
Apparently, Mr. Nash had lost his temper during his talk with the therapist and they moved him to a higher security hall. He caught my glance, gave me a one-sided grin and moved closer to the glass wall.
He pointed at me and then mouthed the words, “you are a good person.” With that last sentiment, I realized he didn’t blame me and the weight of the guilt subsided as a salty wallop of a tear streamed down my cheek, hitting the bleached white tile of that hospital floor. I’m not sure how long I stood frozen in that moment. Eventually he was escorted out of the room and I made my way back down the long hall.
Some days I dream up a different ending to the story. I imagine him getting off the bus in Florida and enveloping his family members in great, big hugs. My chest rises and subsides as I let out a big ole’ sigh at the thought of his reunion with his family, getting clean, and living out a long satisfied life.
I only know the ending of our time together– the rest of Mr. Nash’s story is a mystery to me. Maybe God did provide that bus ticket home. I sure hope so!
The next day I went home to my family, my cozy house, and with no worry about my next meal. Such a sharp contrast to the next place most of my new friends would land.
I brought home a brown paper bag with my belongings and paperwork. As I rifled through it, I was devastated that I had lost the scrap of paper with the blue crayon writing. My mind was fairly muddled at that point and everything seemed like a blur.
I couldn’t for the life of me recall anything I had written from Mr. Nash's teaching.
One year later I sat down to read through the book of Proverbs late at night. One verse immediately jarred my memory. Of course it was about fools and asses!
“A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back” (Proverbs 26:3, KJV).
As if I was there again, I saw Mr. Nash through the glass. It wasn’t the ending I wished for, but I’m not the Narrator of my chapters.
His ways are way more poetic.
Lil Bit of Soul
Love me some BB King. BB King and Ray Charles – Sinner’s Prayer
There was something about his eyes and that smile that made me think of this verse.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2, ESV).
Throughout my stories, you will see a common theme of control and trust. It was the most important lesson that I believe God intended for me to learn. And it would take me a full three years of battling, as I am very stubborn, to release the control over my life and fully Trust in His plan for my life.
I learned you can’t have complete Trust until you learn to let go of the Control. When I fully surrendered my stubborn soul, I attained the Freedom that I had feverishly prayed for countless times over those three years.
He wants to give you the desires of your heart even when you don’t know what those desires are yet.