The Tiers of Charity

Wednesday is garbage day in my area and there is always an interesting juxtaposition between what is thrown out by one person and what is gathered up by another.

This Wednesday, out walking before dawn, I fell into step with a rough sleeper called Jakobus whom I’ve come to know over the years, but whom I’d not seen through all these months of Covid restrictions.

Life has positioned him, not as a recipient of generosity and ease, but of harsh blows. It has grated deep furrows into his countenance, aging him way beyond his years.

He was once beaten up and left with a palsied side, so his walk is somewhat crippled, and his face expressive of injury.

On this morning, he had retrieved a loaf of stale bread from someone’s rubbish. I suggested he meet me at Spar, where we could pick up something fresh, but he asked to accompany me on my walk, so we strolled together towards the thin line on the horizon of emerging daylight.

There is always a sense of the ‘Biblical’ around this young man. In conversation, he will reference something from the Old Testament as though he dwells there.

This will not be a quotation but is more as though he has taken me into a time-warp, permitting me some ‘view’ into the company of a fatherly, though harsh, ever-present God. He shows me the ‘source’, if you will, of all social mores that we as humans should fearlessly live by.

Walking on this day, he told me that some years back he had been stabbed in the left side and almost bled-out. On the operating table he had sensed himself tumbling into great blackness. And then a light ‘brighter than day’ emerged, a light so bright that his eyes burned, and he knew it was God sending him back to life.

Jakobus explained this, not as though God had banished him back to hunger and pavement-sleeping, but as though God had granted him the gift of further living.

As though there was deep purpose to his being alive.

Outside Spar, he noticed a man across the road, harvesting from a dustbin, and said he would not waste the stale loaf. He called out and signalled that he had bread to give. The two crossed to the centre of Derry Street. There the one destitute man gave to the other, and the second held his hand, not to his stomach, but to his heart.

IMAGE: “Man Guided by God” by Marc Chagall

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