We settled into our seats at the local coffee shop to catch up on the latest news. James had seen his fair share of rough spots in life. Prison, mental health issues, struggling to hold a full time job. As we talked we were interrupted by someone sitting next to us, “Do you know how much a Timbit costs?” James and I looked at each other for a moment, “Just a few cents.” There was no verbal response from the next table, just a nod. I had not paid any attention to our neighbour till then. He had no coffee, was dressed in an old weary coat that matched the tired worn look on his face. It wasn’t a stretch to assume he was there just to find a warm place to hang out on that cold December day.
James leaned over to me, “I am going to buy him a coffee and donut”. Turning to his neighbour James offered a coffee and a donut. The response was quick, “Dark roast, triple cream and a honey donut.” We both smiled at each other as James went off to fill the order. Soon he was back. He offered the coffee and donut and was met with a quiet, “Thank you”. As James and I continued our conversation I couldn’t help but reflect on the years James and I had known each other, both in prison
It is almost as if the hardships, pain, rejection and failures of life have crafted and shaped a special kind of care for people others ignore. James sized up his neighbour quickly. His actions, although miniscule on a worldly scale of good deeds, was in some respects a major deal. It spoke about the decisions he had made in life. Decisions not to let the struggles and difficulties of life continue to encase his heart in stone. Instead, he let the losses and pain craft a heart of compassion and care for others.
Jesus words wandered through my mind, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”. The word that repeatedly catches my attention is “whatever”. We often miss the profound wisdom of using a word like whatever. “Whatever” sets no limits on how big or small the act is. It simply doesn’t matter. The very act itself reveals something about the one offering it, whether it is big or small.
On occasion, when I have been asked about what I do, the response is met with a smile and an unvoiced question, “Why would you ever work with those people”? The answer is simple. It lies in watching someone you have invested time and energy in, someone who was written off years ago, someone who once had a heart encased in stone, offering “whatever” to another human being.