Uncombed gray hair falling down over wild eyes. The stench of the streets on unkempt clothes. He ordered coffee and sat in the booth next to me as I worked on my sermon. He muttered to himself and to the backpack, sleeping bag, and the boxes surrounding him. He pulled out empty coffee cups from various places and began to count them, pausing only to sip coffee from the cup in front of him. He caught his reflection in the darkened glass of the restaurant window and let go a string of profanity and rage.
The manager came and told him to calm down and to watch his language. He apologized over and over. “I’ll be good, I’ll be good, I’ll be good.” Then he quietly cursed at the back of the departing boss. Mumbling, he pulled a bunch of quarters from one of the paper cups, counting “One, two, three . . .” as he carefully stacked them on the tabletop, working his way to 12 or 13, then losing count and starting over. “No, no, no,” he’d murmur, “that’s not right.” He’d start again.
Suddenly he glared at me. “Whatcha doing, working or playing?”
“Working,” I said, not wanting to look him in the eye. Wishing I was more like Jesus and not so afraid to engage.
“Whaddya do?” The words were slurred.
“I’m a pastor.”
“Good!” he exclaimed, and then he caught his image in the glass again and gave himself another dressing down: “You worthless piece of garbage! Straighten up, fly right, stop making a mess!” On and on he went until the manager started to walk over again. Instantly he stopped cursing, mumbling how sorry he was and that it wouldn’t happen again. The manager looked at me with a raised eyebrow. I held up my hand, mouthing that it was OK.
The man asked me the time and I told him 10 minutes before 10. He turned it into a song. “Ten to 10, 10 to 10, 10 to 10.” On and on. A worker, bucket and mop in hand, came by and set out the Wet Floor cone. “Whatcha doing, working or playing?” he asked. The kid looked away.
Eventually the man began to pack his stuff away, counting and recounting, mumbling, cursing, pausing occasionally to yell at his image in the window. Then he stopped at my table and stuck out his hand. I shook it, meeting his eyes. He stared at me for a long moment and then began to recite the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. . . .” I joined my voice to his, and together we found the cadence of that beautiful, ancient music.
The kid cleaning the floor stopped and leaned on the handle of the mop, eyes wide with wonder. We finished the creed. In a soft voice, with a bowed head, the man began to pray the Lord’s Prayer. I prayed with him. When I looked up, the kid’s eyes were closed too. We finished our prayer and the ragged man looked up, eyes glowing. “Have a good night,” he blurted. I wished him the same. Before he left, he put a quarter on the table. I looked at him, questioning. “For the offering,” he mumbled as he turned to the door. Once again he cursed his darkened image.