Me and my shadow.
In my blog, I write and wonder about love, life and light in the world I walk in. This is a story about a man I knew once and a great piece of understanding in my life that I would have missed if he hadn’t made an effort. His effort was a few steps across a lobby with an open heart and an outstretched hand. I won’t use his real name in this blog but I will never, ever forget it.
I attended Times Square Church for about six years. It is a huge church in a space that was once a theatre. At the end of services the lobby would be packed with people talking about the service or where they were going to go for lunch or dinner. For about a year I attended this church by myself and knew no one there, until Jerry.
I was standing alone in the middle of the masses of people one day and across the lobby, a slightly, overweight man, in white sneakers and a dark, gray suit came over to greet me. His jacket was old and too small for him, his shirt tales hung out from under his vest and his pants were about two inches too short. He kind of looked like a sad clown in a circus to me.
"Hi, I'm Jerry. What's your name?"
He had a warm smile, although his two front teeth were missing. He needed a shave, a bath and a change of clothing. His graying hair was all matted down on one side and sticking out in other places. He was a black man but I can't tell you his age because he was like a child, a man-child really. As we talked he nodded and smiled but when I looked into Jerry's eyes something was a little off. There was nothing but innocence in them. He was probably in his early forties but his eyes were like that of a four-year-old. On that first day we shook hands but each day after that, whenever I saw him, we hugged each other. He liked me so much.
He never remembered my name though. Even after many times meeting him in the lobby or out on Broadway, he would just call me, “Friend”. Not too long after meeting him he started hitting me up for money for McDonald's that was next to the church or the pizza joint down the block, or for bus fare. He couldn't read or write but he always carried a notebook and looked for me to occasionally write down what God was saying to him. There was urgency about his notes and the only time I sensed any impatience or frustration in him was when I couldn’t sit down immediately and give him my full attention.
I felt a little annoyed many, many times and tried to duck him more than once. He would hit me up for some cash for lunch after the morning service and then again after the evening service for dinner. He couldn't remember my name but he remembered me for food and to write his notes down. Once he fell asleep on my shoulder in a service and I kind of nudged him hard to wake him up because he was snoring so loud.
"Jerry! Wake up man, you're snoring."
To which he replied back loudly, "It's my medication!!"
I felt embarrassed and started to avoid him more often than not. I wanted my peace and quiet in church, my reflection time, and this brother was messing that time up for me.
Eventually, after many months there, I met my good friend Mike and one day I asked him about Jerry. "Mike, do you know that guy Jerry?" I could imitate Jerry’s high-pitched voice perfectly by then, and Mike laughed back, "Dude, you mean the Prophet?"
The “Prophet”. It had never happened to me but Jerry would sometimes make a beeline over to someone and get right up in their face. Quietly he would share something that God wanted to say to that person. His voice would change, getting quiet and deeper. His gentle brown eyes would get a fire in them and it was very "serious" time. When he finished what he needed to say, what was burning in his heart, his voice would go high again and that simple, sweet look would come back to his face.
"O.K., I got to go now.” With that he would walk away smiling, no matter what he had just said. It could be a warning, or correction, or encouragement from God and he would just walk away smiling, rather oblivious to the feelings of the person who had just received the message. What was important to him was that he shared what he believed God had put on his heart. I was basically a baby in Christianity and knew nothing about prophets or prophecies that came from God. Nothing, but I began to look at this man with his notebook very differently.
After the 9/11 bombing Manhattan was rattled for a long time. It took many months before the taxis started to blow their horns again. The city was quiet and reflective and in a state of mourning but eventually the buzz returned, and all the street noises that went with that. Even after a few years past that September morning nerves were still raw and that's when Manhattan got plunged into a blackout.
It was a warm summer day in 2003. I just stepped out of one of those old elevators that could hold about 4 people uncomfortably and it was clear that something was wrong. Buildings had emptied out onto the street and crowds mobbed intersections. The subways stopped running and the busses were packed to their full capacity. People were terrified and everyone kept looking up into the afternoon sky for planes. Cell phone service was cut and no one knew what was going on. Everyone assumed the worst.
It was a total blackout all across the Northeast up to Canada. When the city found out we weren't under another attack a party atmosphere kicked in. The streets were emptied of traffic and people walked in the middle of the streets after the sun went down. Long shadows from crowds, mobs lit by emergency lights in intersections, could have been a very scary sight but then you would hear laughing. Singing! Crowds lined up at Mr. Frosty ice cream trucks or hot dog vendors. Most of the people carried wine and beer. The whole city was a traveling party.
I was in Times Square so I checked out the church. There was no service going on because there wasn’t any electricity but the crowd outside was all lit up. The city wasn't under an attack but a summer black out and it gave everyone a free night to hang out and not go to work. It was an August snow day for the city that lasted two days. In the middle of the crowd in front of the church Jerry stepped out and found me. I was standing there in a tee shirt, shorts and flip-flops with a friend's digital camera. It was the first time I had ever held one and I was planning to walk the whole city and photograph this amazing night. I hadn't anticipated running into Jerry.
"Hi Friend, you want to get something to eat?"
To be continued.