Donald stretched and yawned as morning sunlight roused him from slumber. Hearing the clank of metal wheels, he jerked to an upright position, his eyes darting around. Seeing his shopping cart, he sighed in relief. You just couldn’t be too careful, someone could steal your belongings right from under your nose.
He scratched his crusty beard before rolling up his sleeping bag and placing it in his cart. He got teased about his bright pink sleeping bag. He was just glad to get a replacement for his old, tattered one when a church group was handing them out. There was a lot of jostling for the better ones, and because Donald was smaller than most, he ended up with the one nobody else wanted.
The teenage girl smiled sympathetically as she handed it to him, saying, “Aren’t you lucky! God loves bright pink.” Hers was a group that helped the homeless year round instead of just holidays like most.
Roger walked by pushing his cart with his dog, Rusty, beside him. “Hey, Donald! Pancakes at Andrew House. You coming, man?”
Donald nodded, brushing the dust off his clothes, wondering why he bothered. He hadn’t bathed in a week and hoped he could get a shower today at the mission. Some of his homeless friends went for weeks without bathing or changing clothes, but Donald remembered how things had once been; his life of business suits, the latest sports car, nice house….ah, those were just memories now.
Roger tied Rusty to his cart and they went inside for pancakes. One good thing about being homeless in a big city was that you could get at least one meal a day somewhere.
Some men were there passing out papers. Donald glanced at the handout before shoving it in his pocket. “Thank you,” he said politely.
“You’re so welcome,” the man smiled in appreciation. Most threw the handouts on the ground. Donald wondered what people would think if they knew he had a college degree, and had once made six figures a year. Somewhere he had an ex-wife and three children. She had divorced him when his drug addiction had gotten so bad. He eventually fled to escape embezzlement charges, plunging into the life of addiction and homelessness. He hadn’t seen his children for over twenty years.
A preacher at the mission had said that addiction knows no gender, race, culture, or social or economical status. How true!
“Hey, Roger, I saw that mutt of yours outside,” Rex flashed a toothless grin, plopping his plate down. Roger smiled as he slipped a pancake into his shirt for Rusty.
Donald smoothed the crumbled handout and read about a Christian drug and alcohol facility that had openings in their residential program. He studied it briefly, then folded it and put it away. Would it be possible to shake his addiction, sleep in a real bed again, not worry about the weather, and eat three meals a day? The handout said all things are possible with God.
That afternoon he pushed his cart over to the address on the handout. He stood outside the fence and watched a group of guys playing basketball. They looked great for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Someone waved, and Donald recognized the man who’d given him the handout, but he hurried off as the man started towards him.
He found himself drawn back the next morning. Seeing no one, he started to leave when he heard music flowing from the chapel. Tears pricked his eyes as the familiar words of Amazing Grace washed over him. He didn’t recognize anything else they sang, but then, it had been so many years since he’d been in church.
He left as men started coming out of chapel. Over the next several weeks, it became a daily ritual. Donald began to talk to the man, Tom, who was the director there. He would tell Donald how much God loved him, bring him coffee, and assure him that they had a place for him anytime. Donald always said that he was thinking about it.
Winter came and Tom expressed concern to Donald about him being out in the cold. Then a week passed without Tom seeing Donald. That’s when the police came with the news. Donald had been found dead, alone in his bright pink sleeping bag. Clutched in his fist was the tattered handout with the address of that facility.
* Three million Americans, a fourth of which are children, go without shelter every night.
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