The other day I ran into Cletus, an old friend I first met four years ago, over breakfast at the local soup kitchen. I don’t volunteer there; I go for the donuts. The priest who runs the place doesn’t mind. They’ve got plenty of volunteers, he tells me, but hardly anyone who’ll just sit at the table and talk with the guys about what’s in the newspaper. So now I’m that guy, and when it comes to current events, Cletus is my main sparring partner.
His story is familiar enough that I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say he traded a good family and a good job for a bad woman and a bad habit, and ended up with nobody and nothing of value. Unless you count self-knowledge and a sense of humor, in which case Cletus is a rich man.
In any case, on the day in question I was just making my rounds in the neighborhood, connecting with old friends and letting myself be seen by the folks who moved in over the winter. I was glad when Cletus saw me and called my name. It takes a few passes before new neighbors figure out that I belong here, unless they see me hailed down and hugged by an “old head” like him.
We stood and talked on the sidewalk for a while, mainly about another friend from the soup kitchen who had just gotten out of a nursing home after a stroke, and was already back on the pipe. I never saw Charlie look better and happier than in that home, I told Cletus. I wished they’d never let him out.
“Aw, Bart,” he said, “you know ol’ Charlie may have been better off in there, but what he really wanted was to be back out here, doin’ his thing.” He paused. “We all do what we want in the end.”
I nodded, and half-jokingly asked what I should say to the church people who are always asking me how they can help street guys like Charlie and him. He laughed out loud at that.
“Tell ‘em that most of us don’t want their help! Hell, I know I don’t! I had what they have and I threw it away to get high and chase women. That’s still my choice. If I ever get tired of it, I know you’ll help me, but for now I’m just as happy to have you as a friend and leave it at that.”
Then I laughed out loud too, and we left it at that.
We all do what we want in the end, says Cletus, and around here that’s the problem. For his wife and kids, and for the doctors and nurses who spent their time and your money fixing up ol’ Charlie, that’s the problem. For a guy like me, who keeps walking around wondering what I’m doing here, that’s the problem.
What am I doing here? Waiting for Cletus to want something better.
P.S. – If you are interested, you can donate online at www.thewalnuthillsfellowship.org to support our little fellowship, which is conveniently registered as a 501c3 non-profit organization.
Bart Campolo ministers through The Walnut Hills Fellowship in Cincinnati, Ohio. This article is reprinted from his blog, which you can read here.