If You Look Past the Dirt . . . Russell’s Song

A couple months ago, I was helping register people to have their pictures taken at church for our new parish directory. I was having fun seeing old friends and meeting new ones when this homeless guy walked in. Maybe walked is the wrong word. Shuffled? Sneaked? Whatever. I knew he was not there to get his picture taken. He was dirty, and he wore so many layers of clothes I couldn’t figure out how big he really was. He walked right past my table toward the kitchen–where nothing was happening. I looked around. I was the only staff person there. It was on me to deal with this guy.

I went over to him. “Can I help you?” He muttered something that didn’t make any sense. I finally grasped that he needed a restroom. I turned him around and directed him to the men’s room. He stayed in there so long I got worried. I was about to send one of the male parishioners getting photographed to check on him when he emerged. He came up to me at my table and started talking. And talking. He told me all kinds of things, some of which might have been true. He was a photographer. He was a musician. He had kids somewhere. The DA owed him money. Our pastor had promised to help him get it. I listened and nodded and wished he would go away. I offered him nothing. Finally he walked outside. People coming in told me he was hanging out by the door to the hall. They told me his name was Russell and he came around all the time. They told him to go somewhere else. They told me he left the restroom a mess.

I mostly wanted Russell to leave because I was afraid of him. But is this the Christian way? What should we have done? If I see him again, I vow to be more welcoming. Meanwhile, I wrote a song. With luck, the link will work and you can hear it. This is “Russell’s Song.”