I went to Martins supermarket-with-a-Starbucks today to read Matthew. (Matthew: the Message version, if that counts.)
I’m homeless this week. Well, not really – but I drove back to school a few days early, so I’m not yet allowed to sleep in my own dorm bed. I have several friends with beds; one with a landlady who had a two-night only guest policy. I’ve stayed there for two nights.
Food is dodgy, too – understand, I’m a poor college kid mooching off of poor college kids. That means a lot of chicken nuggets and hot dog dinners.
So I’m wandering around Warsaw while my hosts are at work or class, looking for places with hot drinks and comfortable chairs. Not exactly homeless, but looking for a home. Which is the other reason I’m at Martins. To buy a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.
You have to understand – Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, to me, means home. I’m weird that way, but every time I’ve had one it’s been with friends. They connote Good Things, and Good Times. I crave them all the time.
So I bought one and had just gotten settled at a table by the window when this guy walks in. He’s wearing a Carhartt and a woolen hat and has a scraggly mustache. He doesn’t fit at all with the manicured, maroon interior of the cafe. He ambles over to a table near me and pulls out a chair, half-facing my direction.
“Nice day, isn’t it?” he says, obviously eager for company.
I decide I’m not afraid of him. He starts talking about the blue Schwinn parked outside of Martins, which I soon discover is his.
“You like Schwinns?” he asks me. I can tell this is a conversation that could take a while.
I tell him I do, and he says, “That’s right, it’s the best bicycle in America.” And tells me all about it: the paint color, how he doesn’t do wheelies on it anymore like he did when he was a kid, the broken brake handle, and how a preacher bought it for him once when his old bike got a flat tire.
He’s telling me a lot about himself now – he doesn’t have a car, he’s 51 years old, he has a little cash (seventy dollars) because he just got a paycheck. He says he lives nearby, by himself.
“Ten years ago, I would just sit and stare at the wall at my house – but I decided I didn’t want to live that way anymore. I can decide what to do and what I want…”
“I like it here, at this new Martins – because it’s warm. And it’s very comfortable. I come here a lot. No one’s ever talked to me before, though.”
Not exactly cold, but looking for warmth.
I have a stack of books in front of me, ready to read and write in solitude. But I find myself offering him a drink instead.
“What would you like?”
“Oh – wow – anything. I like hot chocolate.”
“Do you want to try a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate? That’s my favorite.”
He is perfectly willing to, so I buy a Venti and bring it over to him.
By now, Starbucks is filling up a bit – I can tell people are staring and I try to ignore it. Talking with him was fine when no one else is around; what do I do now?
I hand him a packet of salt.
“Usually they put this on themselves; but they’re out of salt today. It’s not Salted Caramel without it!”
We looked pretty funny, sprinkling iodized salt on our Starbucks drinks.
“Now this is good,” he says, taking a long, warm swig.
“You know, this is the nicest thing someone has done for me in…(he counts in his head) in two years.”
“besides that preacher buying me a bike. God is going to bless you for this, you know.”
I tell him, God already has blessed me, that’s why I can try to bless others.
We talk for a while longer – about church, about houses, about bikes – and he finishes his drink and stands up to leave.
“Can I ask you your name?”
He hesitates in the asking, like he is used to being turned down the simple courtesy of an introduction. I tell him, and remember to ask for his.
“My name’s Levi,” he says, and adds a broad smile.
I tell him thanks very much for sitting and talking.
“Oh – it’s the least I could do!” he finishes, “After how nice you were! After something like this,” (and he gestures to his empty cup) “I feel like I could do anything.”
“Well, I’m quite happy that I got to share my favorite drink with someone. So far everyone I’ve introduced it to has liked it almost as much as I do! So thanks again.”
I watch him pedal off in the snow on his bike and open my New Testament to where I’d left off in Matthew 25. I still have some cold chocolate in the bottom of my cup.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:”
(I glance out the window again and turn the page):
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’
Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.”
I start to cry right there in Martins – fortunately I’m practiced in crying nonchalantly, so I don’t think anyone notices.
I was homeless and you gave me a room.
Not exactly homeless, but looking for a home.
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
Not exactly thirsty, but looking for a drink.
…Which happened to mean home already.
Please pass the salt.