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This Thanksgiving, don't forget

11/23/2011, 2:56 p.m.
Temper tantrums and handcuffs

I had an encounter with a gentlemen this past weekend that, once again, reminded me of why we must earnestly seek to be sensitive to the needs of people that, at times, we may want to dismiss. On Sunday night there was a man pacing back and forth in front of the church where I serve as pastor. While pacing, he was ranting and raving with an expletive-filled tirade that made many of the people gathered outside of the church quite uncomfortable, if not fearful. He was yelling at the top of his lungs and declared that if anyone else disrespected him or violated him, he would "unload a clip in their face!" In other words, he was threatening to shoot somebody. For a moment, I listened and watched as people walked by dismissively-probably assuming that the man was either on drugs or suffering from some kind of mental illness. As I stood there listening at the obscenities he was spewing, I looked at the man's face. I did not see someone who was just angry and filled with rage: it was clear that this man was also in a tremendous amount of pain. I approached him and asked if he wanted to talk. To my surprise, he said yes and together we walked to the corner of the block to talk.

The first thing I noticed is that when I asked the brother if he wanted to talk, his tone and attitude completely changed. It was as if my desire to engage him in a conversation somehow disarmed him. I immediately asked him what was the problem and why was he standing in front of the church yelling and cursing. His response confirmed what I saw in his face. He said, "Honestly I'm hurting and I'm mad right now and I don't know what to do." I told him that what he was doing in front of the church was not helping his situation, but then I asked him why was he so angry and why was he hurting. The brother, Dennis, shared with me that within the past year he had contracted HIV from someone he thought he loved and trusted. As I listened, he continued to share his story and poured his heart out to me. He indicated that when he was about 7 years old, he was molested by a family member. He went on to say that his mother sent him to a group home when he was about 11 and that he was repeatedly molested there, as well. I could see how painful this was for Dennis to share. He continued to speak of how unbearable his life had been and that he had been released from prison last year, after having been incarcerated for 11 years. It was evident that Dennis was hurting and I also understood that his anger was a reaction to the unresolved pain that he had been living with for most of his life. After he finished sharing, I asked him if there was anything that I could do for him. He said to me, "I'm hungry. Can you help me get something to eat?" I told him that that would not be a problem and I asked Jesse, one of the members of the church, if he wouldn't mind taking Dennis to get something to eat. Jesse was more than willing to help and Dennis was very appreciative. As Dennis and Jesse were walking away, Dennis turned back, embraced me as he shook my hand, and simply said, "Thank you for listening."

This Thanksgiving season, as many of us are spending time with our families, let us not forget Dennis and others in our community who are in pain and suffer silently. Sometimes, having an open heart and a listening ear can be our greatest expression of gratitude and thanksgiving. By the way, in my encounter with Dennis, a relationship was begun, a divide was bridged and it only took 20 minutes.