A.J. is a 30 something Afro-American man, dread locks, well groomed and homeless, at least to my eyes. He is dressed in tattered clothing and sports a kerchief as a head covering. He is always accompanied by his year old pit-bull, Backup. Backup appears menacing with his white coat and left eye which is encircled by a dark brown ring around it. Backup however is as gentle as his owner A.J.
"He is like my son, you know," I have often heard A.J. say of Backup. It is so apparent. Backup is well taken care of by A.J. I have watched him as he has tenderly cared for him, nurtured him and loved him back to health. In the cold Backup wears a worn woolen blanket as a cape to keep him warm. All of this provided by A.J.
One evening during the peek time of dogs and their owners playing and socializing in the park another homeless man Jim, who was thoroughly inebriated stumbled to the center of the lawn, spread out his sleeping gear and was about to fall asleep. I and others have known Jim a number of years and asked him, with some irritation to move to the side of the lawn out of consideration for the number of people and dogs who were already there. Jim uttered something I was unable to understand. At that instant A.J. appeared, gently leaned over and asked Jim to do the same. Jim began to yell obscenities to A.J. I was now beginning to go off inside, frustrated and angry at Jim. This is because of my history with Jim but mostly because of my having worked and served the poor, addicted and mentally ill for five years. I was burnt out and had no tolerance or patience for this. I could feel my anger like fire at the core of my being wanting o consume me and with that same heat wanting to envelop Jim in it! I was familiar with this as it had come so many times before and so many times I felt hurt and damaged but also guilty. I asked myself, where was the Christ of the Gospels? Where was my heart for the poor?
As the fuel began to rage, I once again looked up at Jim and there kneeling beside him, through all of the abusive language was A.J. comforting Jim, inviting him to spend time with him on the bench or to simply rest. Jim knew the voice of love through A.J. and it pierced through his intoxication and he calmed down as A.J. offered his hand to assist Jim in getting up. I was both convicted and astonished and filled with amazement. I began to weep because right before my eyes the Gospel came to life. I felt my soul beginning to be healed.
I went over to A.J. shortly afterward to let him know how moving that was to me and to let him know what an example he was in his gentleness and acts of love and kindness. A.J. was humble in his words and demeanor and when I asked him where he lived he simply said,"I live everywhere, it is all about choices and I have chosen this lifestyle. My life, our lives are a journey. I have a story."
"I would like to hear that story A.J. and your life's journey someday if you are willing."
"I would like that, he replied."
Little did A.J. know but in that act of kindness to Jim and the love that he expressed, I saw and experienced "The Healer of My Soul."