Just like many of us, Neal had regrets about his life and questions about the future. I don't think Neal wanted to drink like he did. He just didn't think he had much of a choice. He seemed to be sensitive to God's desire for his life. Sometimes he'd say things that gave a glimpse into the struggles he had with himself, such as, "Every time I complain that I'm broke, I think about kids with cancer. And I have to apologize to the Lord."
And one time Neal said to me, "We should really be spreading the news of Christ. We talk about it if someone brings it up, but we should be asking people if they know Christ."
I'd later learn that, in his younger years, Neal had considered going into the ministry.
Neal had lots of friends in the homeless community, as well as friends who were not homeless, such as Amy, who after having met us, stopped by often on her bike. Sometimes Neal met Christian visitors who would chat for a while and buy him something to eat.
Although Amy and others had the capacity to support Neal in ways that his street friends couldn't, the atmosphere of street living was difficult. I remember thinking, after my first week on the streets, that I had never heard the f-word more in my life. And normal street talk often included crass conversations and degrading sexual comments about others. Being around profanity and gaining an insider's view of the street culture affected, to a certain extent, my own thinking and attitude, weighing on me at times. I'd find myself thinking in the voice of someone on the streets or, at times, felt myself agitated with others, no doubt reflecting normal stress I was under at the time. . . .
The deeper people sink into the pit of despair on the streets—pulled into thinking that the alternative culture of street life is not just legitimate but just right for them—the more their hopes and dreams die for anything different. I think down deep, even people on the streets knew that. "You can see how people lose hope out here and start drinking," Chubby John commented, when he and I were speaking with the pastor of the Outdoor Church one Sunday.
For some, alcohol is an escape from past failures, daily anxieties, or fears of the future. And it can also be complicated by mental illness.
Neal would tell me, just a few weeks later from a hospital bed, that drinking with friends on the streets helped being on the streets. In my opinion, it was that very element of "help" that, in reality, actually hurt.
I asked Neal what he thought about his drinking in light of his faith. He wanted to stop drinking, but couldn't figure out why he couldn't. "Cause you keep picking it back up," I said, realizing that my comment was insensitive to the difficulties he faced.
"There's nothing that you've said that I don't already know," Neal replied. Then he reminded me that he was a philosopher and could help answer any questions that I had.
Taken from Homeless at Harvard by John Christopher Frame. Copyright © 2013 by John Christopher Frame. Use by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com
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