The young man was lying on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign on his chest. Three words were written on it in big red letters. No exclamation point. No underlining. A simple request.
The sign said, “Just kill me.”
This was yesterday at noon. I’d parked my semi beside a convenience store, bought a cup of bad coffee, and was walking back to my truck when I saw him. His jeans were soiled from weeks of unwashed wear on the streets. His backpack pillowed beneath his head. His eyes were closed. He clutched the sign to his chest, the words facing upward, a petition of despair.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t stop. I walked right past him, got in my truck, propped my feet up on the dash, and enjoyed the cool of the A/C. You see, my day was shot to hell. Right off the bat that morning, I was involved in an accident on the interstate. No one was hurt, thankfully, nor was it my fault. But by the time the police left, I was an hour and a half behind schedule. On a delivery route like mine, where every minute counts, you can kiss the rest of your day goodbye. I was covered in sweat, irritated, and just ready to go home.
But there lay that young man on the concrete, not fifteen feet from my truck. “Just kill me,” the sign said.
I sighed, climbed out of the truck, and walked over to him. His eyes were closed.
“Hey, bud, what’s up with the sign?”
I sat down on the sidewalk at his feet. Stared at the random bits of garbage festooning the brown grass around the store. The graffiti scrawled on the wall.
“What’s your name?”
“Hi, Dave. My name’s Chad. You want to talk?”
“You sure? Tell me what’s going on. I’m a good listener.”
Who knows what Dave’s story is. A runaway? An addict? Just a kid lost in a world he no longer wants to be a part of? One thing is for certain: my day was heaven compared to his. My minor headaches nothing compared to whatever he was going through. My workday would be over in a few hours. I would go home to my wife, inside our comfortable home, with a fridge full of food, a soft bed, a closet full of clean clothes.
Dave was already at home. His home was the sidewalk, the street. Like the Son of Man, he had nowhere to lay his head.
“Can I pray for you?”
Finally, a positive answer. “Yes.”
So I got up, moved beside him, and knelt in the dirt. I prayed for our Father to have mercy upon him, to give him hope, to show him the light of grace in whatever darkness he was passing through.
Then I lifted my hand and pronounced over him the blessing that, ages ago, Yahweh had given to his people:
“The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look upon you with favor and give you his peace.”
I made the sign of the cross over him. Told him I would pray for him. Climbed back in my truck and drove away.
The longer I work in this area of San Antonio, the more people like Dave I encounter. A while back, I told you about the man and woman I found dumpster diving for food. I met another couple several weeks ago, at this same store, homeless and unemployed, but trying to get back on the road as truck drivers. I’ve spoken with Kevin, a double amputee, who sits in his wheelchair on a corner and begs for charity near a Lowes. He’s a mystic with a fascination for eastern religions and a weakness for McDonald’s hamburgers.
They all have stories. They all fight demons. And they all have dreams. In other words, they’re just like all of us.
God looks down on them all in mercy and pity. He always has upon the poor, the human litter we prefer to sweep away to dark corners. But shall we sweep away God’s children, shall we ignore those for whom Christ died?
God only knows where Dave is. I will continue to pray for him. Maybe I’ll see him again. Maybe not. If I do, I’ll try and show him a little tangible mercy. It’s the least I can do. It’s the least any of us can do.
In a world that can be brutally unmerciful, sometimes a little unexpected mercy can make all the difference in the world.
Lord, have mercy upon Dave.
Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us all.