Tuesday, January 24, 2012

God in the Ghetto

I'm not a huge Phil Collins fan even though he was extremely popular during my high-school years. I actually liked In the Air Tonight but only because Risky Business was one of my all time favorite movies.

In 1989, Phil would record Another Day in Paradise which I believe strikes a shameful chord within all of us. The specific lyrics that pertain to how uncomfortable we feel around homeless people are:

He walks on, doesn't look back
He pretends he can't hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there

I decided to dive into this uncomfortable space in 2007 when I would turn forty years of age. My wife asked me what I wanted for this monumental birthday and I told her I would be most obliged if we were to do something together as a couple but to leave me to my vices for one day out in Dallas.

Now this is a story that I've never told anyone before simply because it's an uncomfortable story and it's one of those tales that's quite personal. And until now has been between me and God as I mentioned before, the stories from the ghettos I have romped around in are my stories and they are extremely close to my heart. However, this is one time I feel compelled to share of myself so listen carefully.

To look for God in this world is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And given most of us live in fairly nice conditions, I would say you're probably not going to find God at the Gap which leads me to the most memorable birthday celebration of my life.

On a Saturday in January of 2007, I hitched my barbecue pit to my truck and headed to the corner of Meadow and Grand in Sunny South Dallas. It is the roughest corner in the city as described by the Dallas Police Department. On this corner is a blues club while across the street is a liquor store that sits on what is known as The Used to Have Corner. Meaning, I used to have money. I used to have a house. I used to have a Cadillac, etc. Teaming with winos and crack addicts, The Used to Have Corner serves as headquarters for those homeless people in search of loose change or a buck here and there to catch their next fix.

My theme party for the day would be to simply set up on this corner and cook 40 lbs of ribs and drink bottles of 40 oz malt liquor with the winos all day in celebration of my now forty years of age. I got there at 7 a.m. and as crazy as it sounds, the corner was full. I guess a wino gets to rolling pretty early in the morning.

I had told a number of blues musicians that I was coming and they began showing up around ten or so to check on me. Most of them would stop and visit, swig back a forty and smoke a cigar while we laughed about old times watching the smoke pour out of my barbecue pit. It was a beautiful winter day and the warmth of the pit was enough for us to huddle around and not get too cold.

Now I'm going to have to give you some education on black culture as I'm sure most of you reading this are white. On your birthday, it's customary to pin dollar bills on one's clothes to recognize this special day. At this time in the morning, no one had pinned any money on me as of yet.

We were all sitting around and I got up to baste the ribs while noticing a homeless man about a block away. He was dressed in a one piece camouflage jump suit with a weightlifters belt around his middle and white worn out high top tennis shoes. He was shuffling around in a hypnotic dance like state that had an air of insanity mixed with it. Sort of a Michael Jackson does miming thing if you can imagine that. One of the guys looked up and said, "Look at the damn fool over there. You think he's had his weekly bath?"

I didn't say anything and kept to my ribs as they were getting a bit dry on the top. As I closed the lid, I looked up and saw the homeless man coming straight for me. Now he was a good 50 yards away but he was bee-lining right in my direction and moving really quickly. The guys that were with me watched him cross the parking lot as he headed straight for me and as he did, a couple of them stood up just to hold my back in case something might be going down.

It's important to note that I have never seen this man in my life. Yes it's true I go down to South Dallas a lot but this was not someone I had ever met or even seen before.

Walking straight up to me, he stopped short and looked me dead in the eyes. He reached deep in his jumpsuit pocket and pulled out a dollar. Pinning it on my shirt he said, "Happy Birthday Edwin." Then without any hint of recognition as if he found himself to be suddenly lost, the man did an about face and walked away. 

I suppose some of you will chalk this up to some strange coincidence but since you weren't there, I can tell you it was beyond any experience I've ever had. He put a hole right through me with those eyes and the whisper of his voice seemed to cut through the sounds that resonate within the ghettos of South Dallas. You could have heard a pin drop when he fastened that dollar on my shirt.

As I mentioned before, folks don't see God because they don't know where to look. I don't think God hangs around with the saints as much as he does with the sinners and since I'm a sinner, I'm in pretty good company.

Keep your eyes open my friends. You never know when God might be wearing a camouflage jumpsuit with a weightlifters belt. He's pretty sneaky sometimes.