stench

If I think about him, the scent still comes to mind. I was at the coffeehouse this morning, like I am every Tuesday and Thursday morning, when a man walked in. I think I will remember him for a long time, but hopefully not by his smell. He was the worst smelling person I have ever met. Actually, I don’t remember ever smelling anything so bad. It was the most putrid combination of odors- a smell like feces, vomit, and garbage all on a very hot day. The smell stung my nose, and although my senses told me to run, I could not move. He was obviously homeless, and immediately my compassion for him kicked in, gluing my feet to the floor and holding my hand from moving to cover my nose. This man deserved my love and respect.

He started talking to me but I could not understand what he was saying. He was asking for a small coffee, and wanted to know if he could get it on credit. Now perhaps I was wrong to assume, but I knew that the man could not have had a credit card, so my confusion continued. Eventually I realized that he was asking for a small coffee that would be put on credit to his name. I wanted to tell him that I would gladly buy him a cup of coffee because I could not credit his name, but my boss walked over. “We can’t give handouts,” was all she said. My jaw dropped.

The man was polite and simply turned and walked out the door. How many times was he rejected before? Then my boss’s dad, who was also at the coffeehouse, came over and asked what the man wanted. He asked us, “so why didn’t you get him a cup of coffee?” then quickly filled a cup and walked outside and gave it to the man who was walking away. A moment of justice- thank God for Clide, the homeless man got his cup of coffee.

The man’s smell hung in the air so thick as if he were still standing next to me. My boss used some air cleaning spray which only created a cloud of the stench and chemicals. The man’s presence lingered. It has haunted me for the rest of today.

How did he become homeless? How many people run from his stench? How often is he rejected? How many people call him the “homeless guy” like I do because we don’t offer him the dignity of learning his name? How many people refuse him a little generosity?

What would you do? Would you have run from the smell? Would you have turned him away? Would you have offered him a cup of coffee then politely ask him to leave because his smell was forcing the other customers to leave? Would you take him home and let him shower in your bathroom? Would you buy him new clean clothes? Or just give him a few coins for the laundrymat?

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

Luke 6:20

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