Almost three and a half years ago we opened our second Connected location in downtown, Salina. Before we even opened we met Bill.
Bill came in nearly every day. He said he liked to look at all of our interesting things. Sometimes he bought a chocolate bar. He always brought conversation.
Bill had lots of stories of people and things from his years around Beloit and Concordia that were entertaining. One might have wondered if Bill made up some of these stories, but he told them in different ways with reliable details! He told more stories about northern Kansas than about his time in the military, but we would hear about his benefits from the government. He was to have had surgery on his foot. (sparing the details here...) “That woman doctor at the VA is real good,” he would say with big eyes and head nods for emphasis. “She knows her stuff!”
Bill was a giving man. He would share his candy with us even when we really didn’t want it. He was kind and good natured. His eyes were friendly.
We talked about Bill monthly at our staff meetings. He came in to see us all, you see. His name didn’t need to be on our agenda, he would naturally come up.
Bill was a man who lived outside. As shopkeepers, we only know what Bill told us over the years. From his stories, he seemed to choose to live as he did. He had family and he had lived indoors previously.
On Monday evening Bill was hit by a vehicle. He died Wednesday.
We are so shocked and shaken by the loss of Bill’s life. My mind is looping back to the times that I could have been better to him. Sometimes his odor was so strong that customers would steer clear of him. Once I told him we would look forward to seeing him another day because I felt like customers were leaving because of his smell. I wish I would have known how to handle those situations better.
Bill seemed to be in decline recently. Perhaps it was his foot. I initiated contact with the person who works with the homeless population and she had responded, but then I didn’t follow up about our concern for him. I hate it that I didn’t do so.
Matthew 25 comes to mind. Roughly, there were people who had cared for those in need and people who had not. Jesus said, ‘just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ This message to care for the poor and oppressed is repeated over and over and over in the Bible. A funny evangelist name Tony Campolo has a fancy for saying that if you cut out every scripture that has to do with caring for the poor, the Bible would be really holey. :)
I’m one who places authority in the scriptures and yet when it comes right down to it, it’s hard to live this stuff out. It’s messy and complicated. I often miss the mark. Perhaps you understand this situation.
Thanks be to God for grace and forgiveness.
The people who make the products that we sell are much more like Bill in most cases than they are like me sitting in my warm, safe house with means and relative security in the future. All we have of our producing partners in the stores are their written stories and becoming pictures. We don’t have them falling asleep in front of us as Bill did. It’s a lot less messy when those in need are a long way away and we just have their beautiful products to adore. While we have a very important role in helping lives get better, we get to be a part of it from an easy distance. This is not lost on me. Just because we might be trying to care for ‘the least of these’ in one way, it doesn’t give us a pass for the rest of life lived together.
I’m thankful for Bill. I’m thankful for all he taught me and for his friendship even when I fell short. I’m thankful for the people who work towards better amidst messy, complicated situations. May we all do so.