I have talked (with permission) about our relationship before and the way it began outside the Community Centre at the corner of Cowan and Queen back when The Dale was still known as PNC. He was immediately menacing and demanded I give him a pair of tokens. At the time, PNC was in financial crisis and I didn’t have tokens, nor did I have the money to buy any. I tried to explain why I could not help, but none of it mattered. To Michael* I was a person he expected to have been able to meet his immediate need. Through tears I tried to explain our situation. Through anger he tried to explain his. Our parting that day was not pretty.
Michael slowly began to show up at our Drop-In programming. His big personality and even bigger voice would fill any room. He claimed to hate our food, routinely told us our coffee sucked, and almost always became threatening. Rather than leaving at our request, he would plant his feet firmly down and say, “I am not going ANYWHERE”. Michael was accustomed to being restricted from drop-in centres and seemed intent on testing us to see what we might do.
One day he decided to scream that I was terrible at what I do. We ended up standing, nose to nose, in an alley-like driveway at the side of one of our Drop-In buildings. I rarely raise my voice, but on this day not only did I raise it, I matched his profanity with my own. It was not one of my prouder moments. I felt something in me snap and became determined, at least in my mind, to not let him get away with the way he was treating me and multiple other people that day. Amazingly, there is a grace that transcends, and that screaming match became our turning point.
One day this year Michael came looking for me before our Sunday service. He was clearly agitated and feeling vulnerable. I learned that he was about to lose his storage unit, the place that held everything he owned. Many of our people who are homeless rely on such spaces to keep their precious things safe, though for many the cost becomes prohibitive. We decided that I would try to negotiate with the owners a little bit of extra time to come up with a plan. Amazingly it worked.
Coming up with a solution that would fit Michael’s needs was not easy. I got very anxious as the time to clear out the old unit drew close. Pete, Joanna and I all arrived to help on move day, really not knowing what to expect. Would Michael be there? Would we get everything out in time? Would this nurture our relationship? Or, would it take us a few steps back, proving to be too vulnerable and difficult?
He was there. And we managed to move everything out and into a new storage space. To most onlookers it would have looked like mundane work, to me it felt momentous. In fact, I felt like the Holy Spirit was present throughout the day. As we parted, Michael embraced each of us (a first), and told me he loved me. When Joanna and I sat in the van afterwards, I couldn’t help but weep.
Both Michael and I have needed to discover who the other was. For many valid reasons, Michael distrusted people. For many valid reasons, I felt threatened by Michael. Building a relationship and trust was going to take time. We have developed a way to talk with one another. He makes me laugh. I make him roll his eyes. Things do still go sideways, but with less regularity. If either of us had bolted though, we wouldn’t be where we are now. And where we are now? Well, it is something I am deeply thankful for.
*For privacy sake, not his real name.