Recently I was out for an early morning hour walk for exercise in downtown Birmingham, walking from the Southside to the Northside and back again.
As I walked on 18th ST and 6th AVE N, I came upon a man in his 30’s about a half a block ahead of me. We made eye contact and he shouted out “Good morning!” before I had the chance. I responded with a “Good morning!” back. I crossed to the other side of the street as I made my turn and we were walking in the same direction, on opposite sides of the street. Before I knew it he had crossed over to my side.
I was a little startled when he said from behind my right shoulder, “Are you getting your exercise early this morning?” I figured he was wanting money. He didn’t have anything in his hands and had only the clothes on his back.
“Yes, I am, how are you today?” as I tried not to act nervous. “I’m doing pretty well,” he said, “just heading to the bus station where I’m catching a bus this morning. I have a brother and sister in West Virginia. “May I walk with you for awhile?” he asked. “Sure, I said,” feeling more comfortable.
“I’m from N’awlins,” he began with his thick Cajun accent . “My girlfriend just told me she wanted to be with somebody else. It was hard. The only thing I knew to do was pick up the phone and call my brother in West Virginia. I asked my baby brother if he could help me out and send me a bus ticket to come his way. He told me the ticket was on the way and he and his wife would make room for me in their home.”
“You have a generous brother,” I chimed in. “Yes sir, I do. And a good sister too. She wired me a little money so that I could eat on the way. They will take care of me until I get back on my feet. I’m an alcoholic and I have bi-polar disorder, ” he said matter-of-factly.
“That must make everything hard,” I added as we turned another corner and picked up the pace.
He shrugged, “Yes sir, it does. But it is going to get better, God is gonna help me. I’m ready this time and God is gonna help me,” he said confidently. I was struck by his optimism and hope. He turned to me and asked “What do you do?”
“I’m a chaplain at an HIV Clinic here,” I replied. “I take care of people who are HIV positive.”
He stopped and looked at me wide-eyed, “Wow, that must be a great job! Helping all those people and all!”
I smiled and said, “You know what, you are right, I love my job.” I heard him add with a lowered voice, “I can’t imagine having a job that I loved.”
He stuck out his hand and introduced himself, “My name is Wylie, just like “Wylie Coyote” the cartoon character. See?” as he showed me a tattoo on the inside of his forearm that was indeed a drawing of the one and only Wylie Coyote pictured for all to see from his wrist to his elbow. I shook his hand firmly, “My name is Malcolm. Nice to meet you Wylie” as I realized I was beginning to enjoy our 20 minute walk and conversation together. We talked about his hopes and dreams, and some of his fears too as we walked together.
“Wylie,” I said, “it’s going to be ok. Things are going to get better for you. You are on the right track. You have family who loves you, and do you know that you are a child of God?” I asked. “Yep, I sure do,” he quickly added.
“Well, here is the bus station and my bus leaves in 10 minutes,” he said as we rounded the corner to the Greyhound Bus Station. “Thanks so much for talking to me and encouraging me. I was just asking God to help me a few minutes before I met you. Isn’t it amazing how God works in mysterious ways? Wow!” “Yes it is, it is,” I nodded.
He turned towards me and said, “Before you leave, will you say a prayer for me right here on the street? “Sure, I will be glad to Wylie.”
He grabbed both of my hands as we closed our eyes and I said, “God, help Wylie to know there is nothing in all of this world that he could ever do or ever say that would keep you from loving him. Help him to know he is not alone and that you are looking after him. Thank you for his brother and sister who love him and give him safe travels as he continues his journey. In your loving name we pray, Amen.”
Before I knew it, Wylie had me in a bear hug saying “Thank you so much Chaplain, thank you so much,” as he wiped his misty eyes with his rough hands. “God bless you Chaplain, God bless you.”
As I walked away I thought, “God just did.”
Walking with Wylie, my gift for the day.