I first sat on the curb with Lars a few years ago. He wouldn’t look at me, or talk to me, or accept anything from me. The most I got out of him was, “No thanks.”
I quickly learned to not hand him money or food, but to simply leave it on the sidewalk for him to pick up later after I had left. He seemed to accept things this way, but he’d never touch them until after he was sure I had left.
My daughter asked me about him. “Why is he on the side of the road? What’s his story?”
I answered that I never asked. I knew his name. And I had asked his favorite color once. And if he’d ever ridden a motor cycle. But Lars never wanted to talk. His answers were always as few words as possible. Which was fine with me. If he didn’t want to talk, it meant I didn’t have to carry the conversation. We could just sit and be quiet.
So we did. On and off. For three years now? He has moved from one street, to under an awning by a carpet place, to leaning against the auto insurance building, to ending up under the overhang of the liquor store across from Staples. There have been a few times I haven’t seen him for a very long time in the winter and have wondered if he died.
Last October 5th, I bought him a birthday card. I was on my way to work and suddenly remembered it was his birthday so I pulled into the closest grocery store, hunted for a card that wouldn’t make him feel awkward (since so many cards are either overly-cheery or the punch line somehow revolves around a life in a materialistic culture), squeezed a ten dollar bill in, and wrote a quick note:
“Lars, Happy Birthday! Thanks for being my friend. Dave”
And then I did the dumbest thing. I took a picture of the card. So I could write about it on this blog.
It took under a minute for me to never want to write on this blog again. How stupid is my life–my priorities–that anyone but Lars needs to see this card?
I deleted the photo. I think. I’m bad with photos.
But I delivered the card. Before work. Lars was still asleep, so I left it on the sidewalk next to him, along with the normal 3 granola bars.
I meant to play my trumpet last fall as well, under the bridge in December. A couple Christmas carols, maybe Frosty the Snowman. Never happened. Holding metal to your mouth in the winter just isn’t fun. Had once asked Lars if I could play for him–had my trumpet with me–but he said he’d rather I didn’t play.
But on Christmas Day I got up before the rest of my family and went to Tim Hortons. I had already bought Lars and I small hot chocolates once before, so knowing he liked them I got us a couple of extra larges. Lars was, of course, still asleep.
Rather than wake him up, I put the paper cup down within his sight line and stood under the overhang. The morning rain was misting down and there might have been a ‘star in the sky’ looking down where he lay, I don’t recall. What I will remember, though, is singing Christmas carols and worshiping Jesus and sensing His presence.
And it’s been like that ever since. I sit down with Lars, and even though there are literally a half dozen things I could get up and go do because it’s Saturday morning and we have a family of six, I feel Jesus’ presence. If I take the time to keep myself still. If I don’t get restless about the rest of ‘my’ day.
On the Tuesday evening before Good Friday, our family dinner at home was gross. Afterwards I went and bought Lars and I both a hamburger from the White Spot in the nearby gas station. Lars wouldn’t eat with me at the time, but I tried to consider it like Communion. I tried to invite Jesus into the meal.
A half year later… change has come.
Instead of taking the granola bars when I leave (three years ago), or, like last year, saying ‘thanks’ and then quickly stuffing them up his left coat sleeve, now… now Lars laughs at the sight of them, like a little kid getting a piece of candy, says, ‘Thank you very much,’ tucks two away in his pants pocket and immediately opens up the third and begins to eat it while I’m still sitting there with him.
And today, when I tuck a ten dollar bill between the bars and say, “Hey man, it’s October 5th. Happy Birthday!” he begins to cry.
And so I sit there with him. And the cars roll bye. And he sniffs his tears and eats his granola bar, braking it into bite-sized chunks, chewing it one piece at a time.