His name is Buddy, maybe? As I sat across from him in a pizza shop on the North Side of Pittsburgh I wondered if that was just a name he adopted after hearing phrases like, "Hey Buddy! You need to move out of here!" or "Buddy, here is some money for food." over and over again.
You see Buddy is homeless. Until last Monday night I had never met Buddy. Our eyes had never locked, we had never spoken. I might have driven past him on the street or walked by but I never really noticed or engaged him. From what others told me that night in the dingy little pizza shop Buddy has been on the streets for years. He wears those years on what I would guess is a late 50's rugged, wind torn face. He is dirty and smelly. The fingernails on his hands have pushed up away from his skin because there is months, years of dirt packed under them. Those fingernails grip a stryofoam cup half-full of lukewarm coffee and his head stays down only seldomly lifting to make eye-contact.
He owns nothing but the clothes he is wearing. No blankets, book bags, satchels, tents, pillows or garbage bags. Nothing. He says stuff is just too heavy to carry. He spends most nights not sleeping but walking, walking nowhere, walking just to walk, walking to stay alive.
He frequents this pizza shop, and the other regulars have made attempts to befriend him, or offer money or help. He usually declines both. The people there say he isnt a drug addict or alcoholic and nothing in Buddy's demeanor would suggest otherwise. They say that he possibly has daughters, somehwere and in some other place and what must seem like some other time.
The sad reality is Buddy is alone.
I'm sitting across from Buddy because it is cold outside, bitter cold. The wind chill for that night is -30. We havent seen that kind of cold in 25 years in Pittsburgh. I'm here to beg Buddy to go into a shelter for the night, to get him refuge from the deadly temps. I'm here with my church serving with a homeless ministry, and one of my church members who works in this area has tried to help Buddy in the past. She is worried about him, I'm worried about him, the pizza shop patrons are worried about him.
It is obvious when you talk to Buddy that there has been some type of trauma in his life and that either years on the street, some type of deep pain, family disaster, illness or tragedy has broken his mind, and fractured his soul. As I sit with him, my desire to know Buddy's story grows by the minute, and I wonder how he ended up here and what his life used to be like.
Buddy has a story worth telling, treasured and celebrated. Buddy is someone's child. He was someone's miracle, someone's dream, the child a young couple had prayed for. Somewhere in a folder is a birth certificate which holds his true name, his full name and a little of his family history. A document that is witness to the beginning of his story, his life.
Buddy is not a throw-away person. No one ever is.
Buddy had friends, hopes, passions. He was a boy. He skipped rocks on a pond, went to school, made forts, kissed a girl, fell in love, climbed trees, sat out under the stars and listened to crickets and probably got married. His now filthy, cracked hands once held his newborn baby girls, and those tired eyes years ago filled with tears of joy when they first heard the words, "Daddy, I Love You".
Those days must seem as if they are from another life, and somebody else entirely. How did you end up here Buddy? What is your story? What is your pain? When did your life go off the tracks?
I wish I had time to share with you all the details of that night. I wish I could say I got him into a shelter, but I didn't. He wouldn't go. I wish I could fix all of Buddy's problems, but I can't. I wish I could some how redeem his story, but that is beyond me.
So what can I do?
I can remember Buddy, I can let his life touch mine, I can pray for Buddy, I can get involved with the homeless and the broken and every so often I can stop in that little pizza shop.
So can you.