I was downtown on a Thursday night and was noticing a nagging hunger in my stomach. In the small town of Pueblo, Colorado, downtown isn’t very big. I could walk to my favorite cafe. As I turned down Union Blvd., I saw a man about a block away. He had long hair, cargo shorts, and no shirt. I rolled my eyes. He was probably a hipster thinking he was “super cool.”
As I got closer, I noticed he was talking to someone seated in the front area of a restaurant. The shirtless man was waving his arms around his head flamboyantly. I smiled. He looked like he was enjoying himself. But as I got closer, I heard his voice. It was loud and angered. He was fighting with someone.
I walked past and analyzed the situation. He was yelling nonsense at a family of six. They were all staring down at their food, trying to ignore him.
One, two, three steps. “Is he high?” I thought. Four, five, six steps, “The family looks distressed.” Seven, eight, nine steps, “I better turn around and see if I can help.”
I stopped, turned around, and walked up to the yelling man. I paused to hear what he was saying before I addressed him. He was yelling something about a Lamb, blindness, and calling the family mother f#@!*&^. There were children at the table.
I had an idea.
“Hey man!” I said loudly and cheerily. “Do you want something to drink?” He stopped, turned to me, and smiled. “Yeah, I want something to drink!”
“Yeah, I want something to drink!”
“Cool! Follow me!”
Without hesitation, the man turned and started walking beside me down the sidewalk. I looked straight into his eyes and introduced myself. His eyes weren’t glazed or bloodshot. He wasn’t high, he was having a schizophrenic break.
I extended my hand and shook his while we walked. I asked his name.
“Hmm, yeah, I don’t know who I am today. It starts with a ‘Q.'” He giggled.
“Okay,” I said.
“I’m the lamb and those mother f*&^%$# didn’t understand. I am covered in blood right now. I have come to this earth to tell them something. They f*&$%#@ won’t listen!”
He smelled, his long blond hair matted and dirty. He was skinny. Too skinny. His shorts hung off the bones of his hips. He looked to be in his mid 20’s.
We were outside the cafe. We stopped.
“Okay, what do you want to drink?” I asked.
“I don’t know, just get me something,” he said harshly.
“Hot or cold?”
“Okay. So is a soda alright?”
“Can you see if they have tonic water?” In that moment, I could see the real him shining through, the him that liked bubbly water.
“Okay, you wait out here and I’ll bring it out.”
I walked into the cafe. My heart sank. There was a long line. I knew I couldn’t leave “Q” alone. He might start yelling at someone else… then I heard him yelling at someone else. I stuck my head out the door, he was yelling at some friends of mine seated around a table outside. I stepped back into the cafe, pulled out my phone, and dialed 911.
“What’s your emergency?” said the “less than thrilled”dispatcher.
“Hi, I’m on Union and there’s a guy on the sidewalk harassing people.”
“Does he have his shirt off?”
“Yeah, I’ve already sent units that way.”
“Okay, thanks.” I hung up. I heard “Q” yelling even louder.
I walked back outside and onto the sidewalk.
“Hey, hey!” I said. He stopped and looked at me. “The line was too long so I wasn’t able to get us anything.”
He started yelling again,”They won’t listen to me! I am the lamb and they are rejecting salvation! They are evil, she is evil!” he said, pointing at one of my friends at the table.
“Well, we don’t have to talk to them. Let’s stand over there.” I led him over to a parking spot by the sidewalk. It would be visible to the police as they drove by. He kept going on and on.
“She is evil! She is of the devil! They called the police on me. The police translate to the end in greek. They are Satan’s helpers. I am a black man in white skin. Do you know how hard it is to be a black man in white skin? They aren’t like you and me. They can’t see truth. I am covered in blood right now. They chose not to see it.”
“Well, that’s okay. Let’s forget about them right now. What was your name again?”
He grinned and thought for a moment.
“My name is Hand Sanitizer.”
“Hand sanitizer?” I laughed.
“Yep, you know. Something that keeps both of us safe.” He laughed too.
At that moment, an officer pulled up. I waited for the policeman to get out of his car. “Hand Sanitizer” directed his attention toward the cop. “Oh, look. It’s a police man. I’m a police person,” said Hand Sanitizer, mocking and jeering at the officer as he walked up. I took a few steps back and onto the sidewalk. I slipped away from Hand Sanitizer and over to my friends sitting around the table.
“Are you okay?” I asked them. “We’re fine. The question is, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m excellent.”
I sat at the table with my friends and watched as several other units arrived. I felt bad for calling the cops on Hand Sanitizer. I felt like I had betrayed his loyalty. I didn’t like all the snide remarks people were making. “Crazy,” “he’s dirty,” “he smells.” There was laughing, pointing, and jeering. Hand Sanitizer just needed some help. Imagine being him.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Horton Hears a Who
I’d say this quote applies to the homeless, the mentally ill, and even the smelly. In our society, there is a copious amount of talk about compassion and understanding. I rarely see it in action. Hand Sanitizer simply needed help. He needed to be talked to. He was there. The real man was there. He was just hard to get to.
There are Hand Sanitizers in all of our lives, people in our workplaces, schools, and favorite restaurants who long for someone to understand. They are the “least of these.”
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I am not lecturing anyone, nor am I innocent of ignoring people. Hand Sanitizer reminded me of a lesson that everyone, including myself, needs to remember. Jesus taught us to reach out to those different from us. The rejects. The ones we don’t understand.
We should spend time learning to relate to, and love, other people. No matter how different or small.