Violation of Sacred Trust

“Of all people, you should know better.”  His words pierced my soul.   These words and this day will be burned in my mind forever.  Seven years ago, but it seems like yesterday.

I had just started with OIM and everything seemed like chaos.  I guess it was chaos for me, trying to balance everything, be fair, help people, and do intervention in a culture that was strange to me, potentially explosive – all the time.

About 200 people at the drop in on a hot summer afternoon.  I was watching two men: one of them was pacing the floor across the room strung out on drugs and aggressive.  Probably crystal meth, I thought.  Crystal meth was in abundance on the streets – not good.  It’s the kind of drug that can make you feel invincible, feel no pain (literally), and you can become aggressive.

The other man was using, maybe some blend of alcohol mixed with prescription drugs – he was having a heated argument, with no one, someone or anyone.  Have to keep an eye on him.

Another man comes up to me and engages me in conversation.  In just a few short minutes, he has told me some of the highlights of his unbelievably traumatic life.  His earliest memories seeped in torment, a childhood of abuse, loss and damage  so severe that it’s almost unimaginable.

Across the room the ‘pacer’ has a violent verbal outburst and I look to see who is the target.  Then immediately to my left the second man throws a wild punch into the air- trying to keep his invisible tormentors at bay.

The man in front of me says, “I can see you are too busy for me.  I’m going to go.”

Cut to the quick.  I quickly explain: the guy across the room, the guy to my left, I’m in charge, so sorry, I want to hear you, I am listening, but things are happening…

“You’re in charge here?  Of all people you should know better. I’m going to go, you have no time for me.”  He turned and walked out, ignoring my desperate pleas to remain and give me another chance that I really didn’t deserve.

Burned on my memory, I had done the greatest misdeed that could be done to someone who was in the midst of crisis – in a  moment of confession where all he needed was a friend to listen.  Too busy, preoccupied, otherwise engaged when I should have been engaged – with him.

People experiencing poverty and homelessness, living on the streets have two things they have complete control over, that they can choose to give or not: one is their real name, the other is their story.  If someone gives you their real name and their story, they have given you everything.

A violation of a sacred trust: a lesson I will never forget.

6 replies
  1. Heather
    Heather says:

    Good post Ken. This makes me think of the people I come into contact with every day. There are so many distractions in this world we live in, and it is so easy to lose out on great opportunities to engage – both with people on the streets and with my own family. Time is so precious – it is one of the best gifts we can give others.

  2. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    so profound ………… we need to learn and constantly relearn how to be fully “in” each moment …..
    we have nothing more precious to give than our undivided time …………..
    and it WILL cost us everything
    thanks Ken for sharing

  3. Michael
    Michael says:

    Ken, I’ve been to the drop in, and I know first hand how quickly things can erupt. While I think it is a good idea that you use this event as a reminder, remember that you are only one person. And remember also that you have staff there that need your protection. I know, one of them stood behind me as a person on crack was flipping out at her. I’ve lived in the homeless community, and the efforts of you and others are very appreciated.

  4. Harry
    Harry says:

    Ken I just wanted to thank you for the reminder that what anyone really wants is to be heard and that our gift of listening may open the door to a relationship that God will bless. In Jesus time of crisis in the garden what he wanted was a few friends to stand by him and pray with him, to listen in to his conversation with his father. How blessed the disciples might have been if they hadn’t been so distracted by the need to sleep and possibly eased Jesus suffering.

  5. ken
    ken says:

    Thanks for the comments. It was a hard lesson, but one which I have never forgotten, even after seven years. I hope that people can learn from my mistake. I never saw that gentleman again. Ever.

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