As Phillip was talking, I started visualizing a scene similar to “Taxi Driver”. A transient hotel. Tight stairways. A trail of blood. A very angry man and two extremely scared men trying to get away, and just LIVE…..
Janice invites these two homeless men into her apartment. She knows them well. She has a case of beer and wants some drinking partners. Being alcoholics and homeless, they oblige. They’re drinking, laughing, singing and telling stories. After a few hours, the alcohol is gone, so Janice steps out to go to the liquor store.
JD has been out all day, steps into his apartment and finds Phillip and Drew chilling in HIS apartment. They were laughing, yelling and intoxicated in HIS house. He knows them, but he does not want them in HIS house. It doesn’t matter that his girlfriend invited them in, he simply does not want them there; they were drinking up HIS money, the money he received being a respected Vietnam vet and a prisoner of war.
JD walks into the kitchen, grabs two knives and starts going absolutely ballistic. He advances toward Drew, but the smaller Drew starts using Phillip as a shield and escapes. His arms and chest get slashed. Dripping with blood, Phil manages to bulldoze out the door and stumble down the few flights of stairs.
Exhausted, Phillip gets outside and breathes a sigh of relief. The wounds aren’t too bad, but he looks up and sees his attacker charge at him with his two knives. Somehow JD had beat him down the stairs. As Phillip continues the story, I picture St. Peter’s attempt to protect his Lord by chopping off the guard’s ear. JD brings his two knives down upon Phillip, viciously slashing the top of his head. With this sudden increase of blood gushing from his skull, the violence finally ceased.
The police arrived. An ambulance came. JD was arrested. Drew appeared from behind a dumpster telling Phillip how he was on his way back in to rescue him. Phillip is exhausted and bleeding. He is mad at his friend’s cowardice, but decides not to argue. He was simply glad and relieved the traumatic event was over and takes the ride to the local hospital. He is thanking God he is still living!
As I sit there listening to Phillip and the other 2 guys talk about JD and the psychotic aftereffects of being a prisoner of war. I listen to how Janice is someone who continually stirs up “mess”. I sit there astounded by the severity of what happened. I am thankful Phillip is still alive to share his stories. I am wondering if there was any revenge bought on by the resulting hatred and nightmares. I don’t want to ask!
Phillip continues with words similar to these….
“About a year later, the prosecutor finds me and is trying to charge him with attempted murder or aggravated battery. He wants me to testify in court. He wants to bring him down. I look at him and laugh; ‘man, if you had come to me a week or a month after the fact, I would have had him fried on the electric chair. But it’s been almost a year man! It’s been a year! We’re cool! Let him be! Let him be free! How can I hold animosity in my heart toward him?'”
Phillip told this story in a local hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where we were visiting another victim of pointless and unprovoked violence. These 3 men were viewing me as their pastor or priest, so they had asked me to pray over Ron and someone else I didn’t personally know, who was being kept alive by machines. We had held hands and prayed to the God who heals, forgives and endured the cross.
Stunned! This amazing story had left me sitting there; absolutely stunned! I think of all the pain, nightmares and trauma he suffered because of that dark night, and he just let it go. He laid it in the Lord’s arms! I look at Phillip and tell him, “what an example of Jesus – you are an example of Jesus!”
I had come to bless a brain bleeding and blackened Ron, yet ironically, an unusual source had blessed me through a horrifying dramatic story. After years of working with homeless folk, I have come to realize that I see more of Jesus in them (with all their struggles, addictions and sin), than they see in me. So I shared this with them….
“Rich and middle class Christians have so much to learn from you guys and the homeless community. Churches and families are too often divided by petty differences, financial matters and hurt feelings. It is easy to dodge and avoid when we see each other once a week and can vacate to the luxury of our homes. There can remain a bitter silence, and it can last for years. When someone lives in a shelter or on the street, dodging one another becomes almost impossible and the emotion comes to the surface. Vicious fights, threats and incidents do happen and, in my mind, I think reconciliation is an impossible dream! But, I love the fact that I am frequently proved wrong, because among the poor and homeless, forgiveness is ever present! Bitter enemies fellowship! Mercy is given! Grace is received! Love occurs!”
Today, Phillip and JD happily share meals together and all I can say is: Thank you Phillip for showing me what forgiveness truly is!