Part of my job at the mission was to straighten the chairs in the auditorium after a service. Lines of homeless men sit row after row, looking sleepy and forlorn, waiting for security to release them to go eat. What we did was pretty easy, making sure the rows looked good and sweeping, but a lot of guys I worked with where right off the street and gangs or just out of prison. It was a major thing for them to allow another person to tell them what to do without a gun having to be aimed at them and a door to freedom being near by. You really have to want to change to be in the program and I saw guys come and go all the time.
The men are released row by row in an orderly way and we head in after the first few rows are cleared to do our stuff. You get to know the guys and chat with them a bit, while making sure you do the job right. Then one day I heard someone start to play one of the grand pianos up front. Those pianos are very old and no one is allowed to mess with them, so I look to see who is getting in trouble when it came alive. He had neatly placed his black hat and bag in front of the keys and was shining like a quarter in a gutter. His clothes, though rumpled, where clean and his style of playing was relaxed and natural. I stood transfixed at this unexpected gift of beauty, the gift that God had given him and that he was now sharing with us. I didn't recognize any of the songs but they felt like old friends. At times he would lean back, at others he would lean over to one side and swing back up sideways, his fingers always going to where they where needed. Moments like that are so fleeting, so I soaked it in as best I could. In the three weeks I've been here, he only played the once... I wonder why. (Now that I look back, I never did see him again. I found out that he plays at a lot of bars around the city but can never get much money together.)
Last night I was out on the deck for 3026 looking East at the southern skyline of Chicago around sunset. The colors that God was using where amazing, it looked like a painting. A young guy named Juan came out with his guitar, the same guitar I had seen on my first day but had yet to hear a song on it. I had only recently gotten to know Juan, a playful kid, somewhat isolated due to the language barrier. I asked him if he knew how to play and his eyes just lit up! I had noticed he had been extra quiet that day and he said that he had been missing his home in Puerto Rico, so he hadn't been playing. It seems I was to be blessed to be there when he came out of his shell. In class the pastor had talked about putting things behind you and that struck a chord with Juan... so many good life lessons to be learned here! He played his first song, singing in Spanish, strumming with no pick, on that warm evening. I couldn't understand any of the words, but that was more than fine with me, and a few of the strings where loose, but that didn't matter. The lyrics he had written, he explained later, where about the good Samaritan, and the way he sang it couldn't be captured in any studio, on any CD. We are so used to canned, processed music, to hear a fresh, live song is a delicacy!