We meet some real characters on the streets of New York City. But behind every person there's a story, and within every story is an intricate trail of experiences that explain why people are the way they are. Our friend Charlie is no exception. He is an eccentric little man who roams the streets and stops by the Prayer Station every Saturday, often sporting a new piece of jewelry that he designed out of the various things he found on the sidewalk throughout the week. He has a childlike sense of humor, and a whole lot of energy. Interactions with Charlie are always an experience, to say the least. But as fun as he can be, he is also deeply troubled.
Growing up in a war-torn country in Southeast Asia, he witnessed family and friends die as he watched foreign armies burn down his village. He copes with these memories by trying to escape reality and often by self-medicating with alcohol. We don’t know if Charlie has any real companions, and it’s very possible that the reason he comes to see us every week is because he feels loved and cared for.
This was confirmed last week when I happened to see him while walking down Main Street. We hadn't done our typical Flushing Prayer Station for a few weeks, so I knew Charlie was eager to see us. I said, “Charlie! So good to see you!” The look on his face showed that he was totally shocked to see us, and the glazed over look in his eyes gave away the fact that he'd been drinking. Tears started running down his face as he asked, “Where have you been?” He whimpered and said, "I need you guys!" I opened my arms to hug him and he clung to me so tightly. He didn't want to let me go, so I let him cry on my shoulder for a while.
People may seem strange or scary on the outside, but we have to learn to look past those things and love them where they are. I can picture the Father loving Charlie through that hug.