I once met a man named Jason on a lonely downtown street in the middle of the night. In a time when I needed someone and had no one, he reminded me that God is always there.
I sat on the wrong side of a heavy barrier chain, which was meant to keep people a few steps away from the river in Wilmington, North Carolina. I wasn’t going to try anything. I just wanted to be close to the water and watch the currents. Like, real close. The town was dead quiet. The only living thing I saw was a rat that ran over my foot without giving me a second’s thought. I had kind’a hoped it’d stay. Anything to make me fell less alone.
Jason shuffled cautiously towards me from the street behind. “Are you alright?” He asked. “You’re not gonna jump are you? You’re awfully close to that ledge.”
I stood up and looked him over. He was bony, dirty, and disheveled. His clothes hung off of him like sheets on a wire.
I had seen him just a few nights before. I had watched him beg a man for some money. He explained that he was trying to find work and had even asked a store if he could clean their windows for some food. But they had thrown him out. The man had turned him away. So I had offered him some money, but he politely refused to take it and in a gentlemanly gesture said, “I’m not going to take money from a lady.”
Here he was again with his hands stretched out–not to beg for help, but to offer it. Without getting too close to me, he asked me to step back over the chain and away from the edge. I did. The irony of this scrawny, homeless man trying to help me was overwhelming. He had nothing, but he knew what I needed. We hugged. His ribs stabbed me and his shoulder blades pressed on my arms. He felt fragile.
He told me his name and we started talking. He said he used to live further north, but then his wife divorced him. He moved to Wilmington to get a new start, but couldn’t find work and had soon lost his home. The night that I first saw him, he was arrested for begging–a controversial new law to keep tourists happy. This night at the river was his first night out of jail and back on the streets–just in time to be a friend to someone who needed one.
He never asked me for money, but I offered it to him again. This time he took it gratefully and said he was going to find a homeless shelter. That was the last time I saw Jason–the man who reached out to me in my time of need and offered the only thing he had.