Monday, June 09, 2008



“What do you get for the man who has everything?”

This is what Chris said about our homeless friend Arley. Well, not homeless homeless, but homeless. He lives in a “hobo shack” in his sister's back yard. It's set by a tree in the back corner, a high, wooden fence on either side. He's made two walls of scrap wood, a roof out of blue tarps, and a curtained entrance. Inside is a bed he's assembled from a few pieces of foam, a little TV, a microwave, and a coffee table made from a camper's table-top and a couple of milk crates.

He has guard dogs, too. They keep his place safe, and scare off intruders. Sometimes they scrap with each other, but are generally good-natured. One wears a hat and smokes. They are 6 inches long and made of plastic. Also, they are dinosaurs.

He reads a lot, and likes to watch King of the Hill.

He has everything he needs, and all that he wants.

Say what you will about Franciscan simplicity, this man's got it. This, however, makes it fairly difficult to select a birthday gift of some kind. He really doesn't want much, if anything. I knew he could use some new shorts, but that doesn't feel like a proper Birthday Present.

So I gave him one of my old books, Under the Overpass. It's a little memoir by a college kid who decided to be homeless for six months. I thought he might appreciate it. Chris's son Joshua sent along a Toy Story dinosaur, sure to be a good friend for the guard dogs.

We thought we'd take him to lunch, with his choice of fried chicken or Hometown Buffet. He chose the buffet. Let me tell you, it's really something to see this man work The Hometown. Why go back for another plate when you can just load up two from the start? Why not try dipping your hot dog wieney in chocolate milk? And why can't a man put jalepeños on his ice cream? He's not insane or anything. He's a hobo. They're free spirits.

We asked him what the best memory of the last year was for him. He thought for a long time. Finally, he said, “Well it's any of those days of the week that I get to spend with you guys. With my Christian friends. With people that actually love me. I see other people through the week and talk, but nobody treats me like you guys do. I enjoy that more than anything. I really do.”

Arley often says things that make me get all quiet inside, and look at the floor for a second, and then look up at him with my bottom lip putting a little extra pressure on my top lip. You know that feeling? The feeling of such affection and humility that someone so full of these qualities can illicit? Anyway, he's really good at that.

I suppose that's what you get for a man who has everything. Honour. Affection. Love. It's the only thing you can give to the poor in spirit. Heaven already belongs to them, so just give them your presence.

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