I spotted him through the window as he dropped his pack and heavy coat on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop. He was in his late 20’s, a long tuft of beard on his chin. I watched him come in and head straight for the restroom and I knew he was there to clean up after a night on the street. He exited the restroom and headed for the line of people ordering coffee.
“Say brother,” I said, “Is that your pack outside?”
“Yes,” he said warily.
“I’ll buy your coffee.”
“Thanks,” he said.
“But there’s a price,” I warned.
“What’s that?” he asked, immediately suspicious.
“You have to tell me your story.”
“That’s all,” I assured him.
We sat down at my table and I began to ask him questions. I found out he’s from Portland, Oregon and hasn’t spoken to his parents in over ten years. They don’t know if he’s alive or dead.
He wound up in Abilene because the freight train he hopped in El Paso was going the wrong way. He got kicked-off in Sweetwater and made his way here.
“Are you going to stay?” I asked.
“Well, it’s a nice town and the people are friendly but it’s so dull. I’d like to go to Tampa but winter’s nearly over – so, what’s the point?”
“So what have you been doing on the road…do you get jobs? What are your long-term goals?”
I could tell by the look on his face that “long term goals” were not a part of his thinking. He told me that he would stay somewhere for a while, get a job but he would get lazy and depressed.
“Every time things seem to come together for me, someone ruins it and it falls apart. It’s never my fault! It’s only when I start traveling again that I get that spark back.”
He’s worked off and on as a fry cook since he was 15. He says he would like to advance to executive chef but, “They only make $75,000 a year – so what’s the point?”
I asked him why he was estranged from his parents. “They never gave me any space; always following me, always trying to direct my life, always on my back.” I asked him if they might have done that because they cared. “I know they care, but they were always on my back,” he repeated. “Thank God they’re not on my back now.” I offered to call his parents just to let them know he’s alive but he refused…said he would do it “…someday when the time is right.”
When I finally said, “Well thank you for your story,” he took it as dismissal and fled to another area of the coffee shop. He couldn’t wait to get away from this old man who was asking too many personal questions.
Eric doesn’t know he’s looking for something he’ll never find on the hard streets, cold rails or lonely highways. The famous “God-shaped hole” in his life was gaping. So, I gave him my “Why you should follow Jesus” card and a prayer in my heart that he will find Him who can give him that missing piece. So, if you see Eric on the street, give him my regards, buy him some coffee, and tell him a little more about Jesus, would you?