There’s a homeless man named Greg who grew up in Walltown (my neighborhood). He’s a pretty severe alcoholic, has been in and out of jail for numerous things over the years, has shot 3 people, and currently is awaiting either trial Aor a plea bargain that could land him in jail for either 24 months or 8 years. He knows everyone in Durham, it seems. When crack cocaine first came to Durham, Greg was on top of the drug market. He never used but always sold. These days, he’s too old for that sort of thing. He’s 53 now, a rather tall, greying black man with a few teeth missing. A diabetic with high blood pressure, Greg is in pretty fragile health in many ways. More than all those things, he has become a friend of the Rutba House. Admittedly, he can be very difficult to love. On a drinking binge, he’ll stumble into our house and pass out on the couch and mumble profanities in his stupor. A couple weeks ago, he came to church on Wednesday and fell asleep during the service and did the same thing, except louder and more violently. But his vices can also bring an odd sense of amusement to our house. He is always “finding” gifts for the kids, with the caution to the parents, “Don’t ask me where I got it.” We all have to laugh at what he brings over because Greg steals gifts for us out of affection for the closest thing he has to a family, other than his momma. He’s got a million stories, crazy stories, many of which make you marvel that he is still alive. He’s been through countless rehab programs, but still remains an addict. Undoubtedly, of all the evil that still flares its head in Greg’s life, alcohol’s grip on his spirit is the most difficult to see past.
Yesterday, just as we were about to start dinner, a white truck dropped Greg off at our house as a call came from our neighbor telling us that Greg had been hit by a car. Riding his bike up our street (a bike the origins of which are suspect, but which has brought him great joy to be able to ride, after much prodding of my roommate to fix), a car had turned sharply and hit him straight on, knocking him 10 feet, where he landing on his leg and head and wrist. Greg had of course known the driver, a dealer in our neighborhood, but neither one was looking to call the police, so the driver left. Greg was dropped off by a stranger; his wounds didn’t look too severe, though he was obviously in a lot of pain in his leg. Susan, my housemate who also is a nurse at Duke, looked him over and cleaned and bandaged his cuts. Greg laid down on the couch.
For me, it was in the following moments where I had more compassion on Greg than ever before. I’d taken him to a detox facility once, but he had been so drunk and out of it that I struggled to really feel anything for him. But now, sitting in our living room, cold and shaking from the combination of trauma and withdrawl, I saw humanity in Greg that I, and I think all of us, often overlook. The first thing he did was call his mamma, which was striking to me, that inside the coarse, tough person was a child still looking for his mother’s love and care when he got hurt. Greg sat there for awhile, repeating his story over and over, I think still in shock that it had happened. A bit later, he decided he needed to go to the hospital. I volunteered to take him, so he and I went.
At the emergency room, I saw a vulnerable, weak, hurt Greg. On the way, he’d finished off a beer because he was still in withdrawl, which I hadn’t even objected to. But once in the waiting room, he asked me to grab him a bucket, and as I did he vomited right as I handed it to him. For the next few minutes, he puked into the bucket, with disgusted looks from other patients. Here was Greg’s life, his disease, and his weakness exposed to total strangers. It probably was an odd sight, me sitting next to a 53 year old man who surely looked homeless and smelled like alcohol. We kept talking, and I was amazed that Greg, who had been through “all sorts of shit” (as he put it), was so distraught about getting hit by a car. Shortly after, Greg went for some X-rays.
As much as I am glad I spent the time with Greg, like most endeavors in my life, it was coupled with something I can only identify as weakness in me. I was glad to take him, but didn’t want to stick it out as long as it took. I wanted to get on to my brother’s house, because he and I hang out and watch T.V. together on Thursdays. I am ashamed that I still had that on my mind, and arranged with another housemate to pick him up when he was all done. Greg came back from the X-ray, and I told him that I was leaving but that he could call Leah when things were finished. He looked at me and said, “Hey, but I haven’t had any dinner. I was on my way up to eat dinner with y’all when I got hit.” Cut to the heart by my selfishness, I ran out and got him some burgers from Burger King, all the while confessing my sins, “Father forgive me, Father forgive me.”