Last week was a friend’s birthday from the neighborhood, he was an almost instant friend to me when we met last summer, and, in fact, was the first guy we had into our home for dinner one hot, hazy day last July. A picture hangs on our dining room wall of that holy dinner, a dinner that we gave Anthony a knife, and he was shocked that we would trust a stranger in our kitchen with such a weapon. Hey, we just needed the zuchinni chopped.
The progression of our friendship is one I had only dreamed of seeing happen after months of pondering if friendship with those I was interacting with on the streets was possible. Anthony is “proof” that it is. He doesn’t live on the street, though, but some might think of him as homeless just because of how he looks. That is a very common misconception, actually, for the majority of those Sher and I hang out with and host at our dinners and small groups have rooms. Not, homes, mind you. Small, dingy, dirty, rooms. It isn’t really any better than being homeless, except for the protection from the Chicago weather and violence.
Anthony has brought us pizza to eat on a Sunday afternoon, he has been given our keys to wait at our place because we kept missing a package, and he calls to check up on me often. Anthony knows I don’t cook much, and has been calling to bring me by Chinese the past few days. Anthony told me the other day after a scary occurence happened in front of me at the intersection right next to my house that if I ever needed someone to walk with me, to call him. At midnight? I asked. He said, yes, wake me up. Anthony is not much taller than I, but a buddy would make all the difference in the world late at night on the streets near our place.
On Sunday night, we all gathered for small group and a new friend from the neighborhood-over who lives at the YMCA had remembered it was Anthony’s birthday, and had bought and brought a cake with him. We tucked it away in the back room, and hinted to Anthony that he had a surprise coming to him, which he loved, of course. That night I asked him if he had done something special for his birthday the day before, he said no. Just another day. Did your sister call? Nope.
After a typically chaotic Bible study, we had dinner afterwards and then turned out the lights and brought in the lit-up cake in all of its store bought glory. Only the glow on Anthony’s face (and quite possibly mine) could outshine the many candles that were burning away. We sang our out-of-tune and heartfelt happy birthday in the very same dining room he had entered for the first time ten months before. It was such an overwhelmingly beautiful moment I can hardly think back on it without tearing up. My dear friend Anthony, happy birthday to you. I hope you felt loved on that day.