His name was John
We first met one afternoon when my husband and I stopped to shop for fresh vegetables at our local Fruiticana. He was slouched on the sidewalk, wearing a dark hoodie covering most of his eyes, a small bag beside him and his back to the wall. He waved as we entered the parking lot; I waved back, noting his tattered clothing and dirty hand.
As we left the parking lot, my husband felt compelled to stop. I was glad when he pulled out his wallet and called the man over. A single front tooth stood out as the man, who identified himself as John, smiled a big, broad smile. He thanked us for our “kindness” and then told us that Jesus was the reason he was here today and if it weren’t for Jesus, he would still be trapped by his addiction to alcohol. He added, “It’s been years since I’ve been free.”
That was the beginning of a rather unusual and rewarding relationship.
After that day, each time we visited Fruiticana, and John was sitting in his usual spot, my husband or I would stop to chat and leave him with a little something we prayed would make his life just a little easier.
On one occasion, I noticed a neighboring shop clerk stop to chat with John as she took her “coffee/smoke” break. On another occasion, I noted a bread truck driver hand John a soft loaf of freshly baked bread. He also took the time for a short chat. It appeared to me John had found community. In some small way, I determined I would be part of John’s unusual but caring community.
Once, in conversation with John, we talked about that no matter what happens, one day we will see each other in heaven. This journey on earth is for a time, but our forever lives are still to come.
2017 was one of the coldest and longest winters Abbotsford had experienced in many years. The weeks came and went, and I didn’t see John. I wondered, “Was he warm? Was he safe? Was he well? Was he still with us? Until one day while driving down Gladwin Road, I saw him walking down the street. Yes, John was still with us, and he seemed to be doing ok.
Finally, spring arrived. It was a wet and chilly April day, and this time Superstore was our grocery shopping destination. My heart did a little skip when I spotted John, sitting on a cement block in the underground parking lot, away from the bone-chilling, freezing rain.
I walked over to him, and he greeted me with his usual bright and cheerful, toothless smile. I shared some of what I had with him, and this time John shared back. He handed me a bunch of organic bananas. He asked if I would like to have them. He said he had too many bananas right now and they would just go bad. “Everybody gives me bananas,” he said.
I hesitated, but only for a moment. With a broad smile of my own, I took his bananas and thanked him. I told him I needed bananas and that he had just made my day. After all, I was part of his community, and that’s what you do in community. You share. I felt deeply honored to be officially accepted into John’s little community.
That was the last time I saw John.
Today, June 7, we stopped at Fruiticana to replenish our fruits and vegetables. When I saw the neighboring shop clerk taking her smoke break, sitting near where John usually sat, but this time alone, I walked over to her and asked her, “Have you seen John lately?”
“No,” she replied, “he passed away not long ago.”
I have to say my moment of sadness was but a moment, for you see, John is in heaven and most surely having the time of his forever life.