I just found Lawrence in the bushes.
And if I had not gotten a flat tire on my bike, I would have missed the opportunity to help.
When I first visited 4942 N. Kenmore Ave, I had an experience that is forever etched into my heart and made it very clear that this was the block I wanted to live on.
While we were waiting for the real estate guy to come give us a showing (he never showed), we were hanging out on the curb with a few familiar faces, the subject of conversation was the possibility of us moving in.
About the time we realized the Real Estate guy wasn’t going to show, I noticed a little old man shuffling past us. He was pretty ragged, and most likely rather medicated. As he shuffled by, I felt a tenderness towards him – but what pushed me over the edge was what I saw when he passed by. His pants, while secure in the front, were completely below his cheeks in the back. His old, white, little butt just shuffled on towards his home 3 doors down at the nursing facility.
I was sold on the apartment right then – I didn’t even need to see it. I knew that I wanted to live on a block where drunks passed out and woke up in their own urine. I wanted to live where drug dealing and prostitution happened right in front of my house. I wanted to live on a bock where elderly folks could shuffle past in their medicated state, exposing their hind quarters.
I wanted to live on this block because I wanted to be a hospitable presence for these vulnerable people.
While it is true that we have had thousands of guests into our home in the over 2 years we’ve lived here – what I felt most eager to do was to have a hospitable presence. To be a neighbor who would not look away in disgust. To be a friendly face who would smile – even if you’re missing an eye, dirty and picking up trash and leaves from the gutters as you pace the street. I wanted to be a neighbor who would pick you up out of the bushes when you’d fallen and weren’t able to get up.
Not long after I met Lawrence, we hosted an event in our home that has been one our most notorious! It was a Visit with Santa! My father and mother flew to Chicago from PA for just a few days and my cousin flew in for less than 24 hours to facilitate taking professional photos with Santa (my dad). I cannot wait to do this again this Winter!
Santa (my dad) and I took a seat on either side and tried to talk with him while my cousin took a photo. During our conversation, Lawrence told us he worked for the CIA, then he stopped for a moment and took a very serious imaginary phone call before resuming his attention to us.
Ever since then, this neighbor walks by and yells at our house – we can’t understand him, but he hollers in our direction, even when he doesn’t see us or even know if we are home. On Easter he stopped by our party and wouldn’t come past the front gate, but waved and blew kisses at me before continuing on.
I love being Lawrence’s neighbor. I just love it.
Today I had planned to go to the gym and the bank, but as I left my meeting, I discovered a flat tire. I walked my bike home, pretty bummed I’d have to change my plans after finding out that Wednesdays are the Bike Shop’s day to be closed.
As I neared my house I noticed legs stretched out on the sidewalk and assumed it was another drunk neighbor passed out or unable to stand. A few faces went through my head as I wondered who it was I would stubble upon. Yet, as I got closer I realized the person was in the bushes – not against a fence – and their legs were twitching. I got a little more concerned – then I saw Lawrence. Knowing how unsteady he is normally, and noticing a cigarette in his hand, I figured he just lost his balance and fell, so I put my bike down and helped him up. For some reason, although we got about 20 feet down the sidewalk, he wouldn’t adjust his center of gravity over his feet, so I was propping him up as we walked. We were not far from his building, and I just wanted to get him there. It was clear we weren’t going to make it, so I kept him propped up as I frantically wondered how I’d get him in. Finally a woman exited the building and I called to her and asked for help.
Thankfully she knew Lawrence well and came to see what was going on – I’m still holding this man up and he and I are both growing more tired by the moment. She ran inside for help. Meanwhile, two medics walk out on their smart phones, pushing an empty stretcher. I call out to them “Hey, would one of you mind helping me? I’m just trying to keep him off the ground and he and I are both tuckering out.” One runs inside for help – the other waits. Finally, I ask again for a hand and the 2nd guy comes over and we share the burden – phew. Within moments the two who had gone in are back out and they’d decided to just use the empty gurney that had been sitting within steps of us. Poor Lawrence didn’t want to sit because he didn’t want to be taken away. He was reassured that he was just going inside. I patted him on the shoulder, grabbed my bike and finished the walk home – passing back “thank you!” “no, thank you!” to the B-String who had taken over.
I sure hope Lawrence can stay out of the bushes from now on, and that this incident isn’t the end of his independence. I hope he can still walk and shuffle down the street each day – getting air and seeing the city life around him.
I don’t know how much longer Lawrence will live, or what his quality of life will be like – but I do know that he was found in the bushes by a friend – a neighbor who he knows loves him. I can’t follow each of my precious neighbors into the dark corners of their realities – but I definitely can step up in the moment I’m given, filling the often sterile and unfamiliar space of need in our society – with a shoulder, a hand, a smile or an invitation to dinner.
And I truly believe that you can too.
Hospitable presence is restorative – and it’s simple. Although you might have a few sore muscles afterwards – even after missing your chance to go to the gym, the bank or the bike shop.