George

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Yesterday afternoon, I did some errands.

As I pulled into the parking lot of a local drug store, I noticed a scruffy looking man, wearing a backpack, standing on the sidewalk outside the store’s sliding doors.

A few seconds later, as I got out of my car, he called out to me, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.

He kept repeating whatever he was saying as I got closer to the store, and I finally understood him.

He was asking me if I had a quarter. He had 25 pennies, but the city buses don’t accept pennies, so he wanted to trade me his pennies for a quarter.

I felt inside my pocket, but I didn’t have any change.

So I turned around and walked back to my car, as he followed me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any change in the console between my front car seats, so I offered him a dollar bill.

He thanked me profusely, shook my hand, and tried to hand me his 25 pennies, which I politely declined.

For a couple of seconds, we looked at each other, then I said, “Hey, don’t I know you?”

He thought for a second, then replied, “Yeah — you’re the guy from that homeless church downtown!”

That’s when I realized that the guy I was talking to was George — one of the homeless people that I had ministered to for a couple of years, in a weekly church service for homeless people that fed and ministered to about 200 people every Tuesday evening.

But the George that I remembered from the homeless church was completely different from this George.

That George had been a loud, obnoxious, violently angry, dangerous bully who was always high from smoking spice. He was a walking example of what a friend of mine called toxic people — and had threatened my life several times when I had held him accountable for his bad behavior.

In fact, the only person at the homeless church who was more dangerous than George, was the host church’s security guard.

But this George was happy, carefree, friendly, and talkative.

So I asked him, “George, are you off of spice now?”

With a big smile, he replied laughingly, “Well, when you don’t have any money to buy it, I guess that means you’re off of it.”

I told him that maybe that’s a blessing in disguise, then said, “Man, I love the person that you are when you’re off of spice!”

He replied that, when he’s off of spice, he can think a lot better — but then he confessed, “But when you’re with ten guys, and they’re all, ‘Aaaagh!’ (he pantomimed a man laying back with his mouth hanging open), then it makes you feel like, ‘Yeah, I should join them.'”

I said, “You need to find better people to hang around with. I’ll pray for you about that.”

Standing there in the parking lot, we talked for a few more minutes. I told him that I’m surprised that he’s still alive. He replied with a lot of “Christian-ese,” saying things like “Praise God!” and “Jesus loves me!,” then rambled on happily, but nonsensically, about how he reads his horoscope every day, as though he thought that was a “spiritual” thing to do that would impress me.

It was sad to see that, although George has “survived” years of using spice, he’s no longer in full command of his mind.

We exchanged pleasantries for another minute, until he felt the need to go to his bus stop.

At that point, he gave me a big smile and shook my hand enthusiastically, telling me that he hopes that we’ll run into each other again in the future.

I hope so, too.

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