There is a man who lives in his truck behind the church near our house. He’s been there since springtime. It didn’t take us long to give the dark-haired man a name: “Walter.” We felt unsettled that he was around, stuck, with seemingly no where to go. This is our neighborhood, our space. We walk the dog in the late evenings, and often see Walter standing near his truck, or sitting at a lone picnic table near the deserted church playground. What is he doing? This feels….wrong. It feels like the beginning of a Dateline NBC episode–some eerie story unraveling. Yet, some nights, I deliberately walk the loop past the back of the church, past Walter sitting alone in his dark truck. I shine the flashlight along our path, the dog sniffing, me walking tall, keeping an eye on the silhouette in the front seat. One night, he wasn’t in his truck. The dog hesitated and I glanced to my left. In the shadows I saw Walter’s form standing among the pine trees, waiting for me to pass.
A couple Sundays ago, as I was tidying up the yard for winter, I heard the sound of a guitar and a deep, clear voice singing from beyond the trees. A few churchgoers were playing songs for Walter. Since the weather changed and the nights leave ice on windshields, the church has supplied Walter with a power cord for a small heater. It glows a faint orange in the cab of his truck, attached to the driver’s side visor. After two weeks of this weather and a few brave walks past his truck, I decided it was time to figure out who this guy was. Behind my layer of uneasiness was a sense of concern. No. This isn’t right. But maybe more so for him than for me.
I found out from the church staff today that his wife kicked him out when his mind became “abnormal” and his grown daughters won’t see him. He is being treated for mental illness and the church is trying to get him placed in special housing. He comes into the church for the free Tuesday night community dinner but isn’t very comfortable accepting more food than that. When he does, he favors peanut butter, coffee, and Dr. Pepper. He gave his truck keys to the pastor because he isn’t able to drive anymore.
For months I have wondered, worried, and been a bit nervous of his presence. Tonight, I walked up to his window and offered a blueberry cereal bar. He rolled down his window, accepted the snack and said he really likes “the blue ones.” We chatted. His name is Mike and not one part of me felt afraid of him. I walked away with a sad heart for a life that ends up with only an old broken truck and lots of misunderstanding. Let’s not judge. Let’s just figure out that we are all human beings in some kind of struggle.