Out front of the café, I noticed a young lady in a yellow floral dress next to an older man. He was leaning on crutches. They both turned to look at me. “Do you have any change?” she asked.
“I typically don’t carry cash,” I responded, “but I’m getting coffee, would you like one?” Their faces lit up.
When I returned I found them seated at the curb. As they reached for the coffee, they thanked me with a nod. I stood there not sure what to do next. Truth told, I wasn’t sure what to say, either. “I’m Jenna,” she said. “This is Bob…we’re kind of a thing.” By all appearances, under the spaghetti shoulder straps, Jenna was a man, biologically. The padding of her bra, pushed crooked and exposed under the crumpled bright fabric, covered a chest of dark hair. “We’re in a bad way right now,” she explained in her husky voice. “We used to have a car we lived in, but the cops compounded it after my DUI. We just got out of lockup.”
“Do you mind if I join you,” I asked? A little surprised, she offered me a place next to her. I sat down and hugged my knees to my chest. Turning to her, I noticed a two-day shadow needing a shave, smeared mascara under her eyes, and a sadness there. She started talking, and I listened, for what felt like a long, long time.
When I stood in line at the café, I remember looking over my shoulder, and watched as Jenna helped Bob to the curb, deftly managing his crutches. At that point I knew I was going to sit down with them, but why? Was it voyeuristic curiosity? Did I need to prove something to myself? What does compassion look like in the real world, that risky side to life, where you don’t know where the next word will come from, and the possibility of saying something wrong outweighs your bag of tricks, answers ready at your fingertips? In the end it was the gospel once again, the story of God coming and sitting among us, that tightened the coffee in my hands a little tighter.
Proximity matters. When I sat down, He sat down. When I decided to be inches from my new friend, choking on the odor of her homeless body, that’s when the Gospel became more than a concept. What crept into my memory was my own story, not dissimilar to Jenna and Bob’s, save the grace of God. It wasn’t their story that mattered, or their appearance, or even how they understood their sexual orientation, though such things do matter. What mattered most in that moment was that He wanted to hold their hearts. In listening, in sitting shoulder to shoulder with Jenna, I was doing in figure, what He does in Spirit; absorb a story of great pain, offer Himself a salve.
In the end I told them about the One who had sat down with me. No bag of tricks, just a simple story with a hopeful ending. I prayed He would become more real to them then the coffee cooling in their hands. When they got up, Bob was a little awkward, imbalanced, so Jenna tried to steady him. I watched her adjust her front, and then when the light turned, they walked arm and arm across the street.