I promised Gator that I would write about him.
His real name is Mike, and he lives in the woods in a camp with some other people.
I only met him briefly, which is par for the course for reporters. We get to know people long enough to get what we need for a story, but often not long enough to care.
I’m talking about myself here, and the truth is I’m not proud of it. But I’m telling you this because God’s been chipping away at my uncaring, although he’s got a long way to go.
I met Gator when I went to do a story about Lynda Simmons, a local woman who really cares about people. She’s been feeding homeless people for years, and not just on holidays. This is her life.
Gator had come to eat some of Miss Lynda’s food. When he saw me and my notebook and pen he started talking, wanting me to tell the readers that there are people like him who used to have homes and families but now don’t.
He’s fortunate, he said, because he’s got a job. It’s just part-time, but it’s honest work. He came to Florida because of a woman, but it didn’t work out. He’s been homeless for about six months.
Gator told me about his camp, about how everyone looks out for each other and shares with each other. They’re all in the same boat. They’re all homeless together.
Every night they build a fire to stay warm, and he said it’s not too difficult to get food. He said it’s not so bad, but immediately added, “I hate it.”
He said no one’s allowed to walk on the state trail after dusk, even though that’s a shortcut from his job to his camp, and that he sees people on horses and bicycles on the trail at night and that it’s not fair.
He said he hoped I’d write about the people in the woods so other people will remember that they’re out there and need homes. He shook my hand and held onto it for a long time.
I went home and put some soup in the microwave and watched “House” on TV. I slept under the down comforter on my queen-size bed inside my house with central heat and air and then drove to work in the morning.
But I didn’t forget about Gator or about Fred or Kevin or Daniel or Pappy, or any of the other homeless people I’ve met recently.
God is stirring something in me concerning people who are homeless — they are people, not just a label (“the homeless”). I’m not sure why I’m being drawn to their plight, only that I am.
The more I tell their stories, the more God chips away at my layers of uncaring.
Recently, I read “Same Kind of Different As Me,” the true story of Denver Moore, a dirt poor, black, Louisiana sharecropper who leaves for a “better” life being homeless in Fort Worth, Texas, and his friendship with wealthy art dealer Ron Hall and his wife, Debbie. It’s a match made only in heaven as the unlikely pair grow as close as brothers.
The New York Times bestseller has sold a bazillion copies, and I read that Ron Hall gives all his royalties to a Fort Worth homeless shelter.
It’s an amazing story of redemption for not only a former “mean and dangerous homeless drifter,” but for a self-satisfied rich man. Denver has his own home now and makes a living as an artist and public speaker. His and Ron’s story have benefited many lives of homeless men and women.
But not all of them. People like Gator are still out in the woods, hating where they are.
The last line of the book hit me. Denver wrote: “The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or something in between, this earth ain’t no final restin place. So in a way, we all is homeless — just workin our way toward home.”
We all is homeless and we all is required to take care of each other. I don’t know exactly what that means or looks like. Frankly, the enormity of the problem is overwhelming. But my heart is stirred, and that’s a start. I’m trusting God to help me finish.
We all is homeless.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at email@example.com.