Early winter in Memphis. I watch leaves let go of trees. The backyard of Manna House is almost completely covered by the fallen leaves. I see winter’s approaching starkness in the bare branches overhead. And I find my faith in Light and Resurrection tested. In my morning prayer, I read apocalyptic visions that will culminate in a Son born among the least. Yet I know that Son will be immediately threatened by a murderous ruler. This is a time of advent journey.
In this advent journey, I feel the cold of the mornings. I hold the hands of guests during our opening prayer on the front porch. Their icy flesh hints of death. It is a harsh reminder of what it means to have no warm place to stay for the night. Even if they found shelter, that momentary warmth is gone by the time we open at 8.a.m. Shelters usually ask people to get up and get outside by 6 or 7 a.m.
In this advent journey, the line forms quickly and quietly as our guests enter the light and warmth of Manna House. They seek coffee to warm their bodies. They seek welcome to warm their souls. We are going through more hot coffee more quickly each morning. It takes about twenty minutes for the first one hundred cup coffee pot to be emptied. Some guests have taken to filling small thermoses so even after we close they will have some hot coffee. They try to carry the light and warmth of the house with them.
Along this advent journey, my faith is tested, both in God and in humanity. The Christ who arrives at Manna House suffers from our sins, and he is announced by an angel from on low, “There’s a man in the front yard who needs an ambulance.”
I go outside and see a man seated on a chair near the front gate. Another guest had brought a chair down to the gate for the man to sit on. The man is shaking slightly as he sits. He is old and black, and though I recognize him, I cannot remember his name.
He reminds me of his name, and says, “I was just discharged from the Med about an hour ago. They left this in my arm.”
He rolls up his sleeve to reveal an IV port, still taped to his arm. Then he hands me his discharge papers. Dizziness and high blood pressure and dehydration conspired to put him into the emergency room. People in a hurry apparently conspired to leave the IV port in him. The temptation is to rush, for all of us. It is how we lose the Light and end up in darkness.
A guest insists I call an ambulance. Another urges the man to get a lawyer and sue.
“No need to do that,” I respond about the ambulance. “I’ll take him back to the Med.” We have enough volunteers (thankfully) so I have the leisure to leave Manna House for a while.
I get my car from across the street. A few guests gently deposit the man in the front seat. I reach across to click his seat belt into place. Off we go on our Advent journey.
The Med (or should I say its new fancy name, “Region One”?) is about three quarters of a mile from Manna House. We talk along the way.
“I was headed to Catholic Charities,” he says, “I’m working with them to get a place. Do you know Dick Hackett there? He’s going to help me.”
“Sure I know of Dick Hackett. He was the mayor of Memphis.”
“When he was mayor, my Momma cleaned his house, so I figure he owes me.”
We arrive at the hospital. I help him out of the car. He takes my arm so I can steady him while he walks. We take very slow steps as we head arm in arm to the Emergency Room. The nurse on duty at the front desk listens to his story. She does not apologize or offer any explanation about why the IV port was left in his arm. She does come around immediately and go to work.
“There, all done,” she says, as she swiftly and cleanly pulls out the IV port.
We walk slowly back to my car, arm in arm. I drive him to Catholic Charities. He methodically makes his way up the steps, holding the railing, and enters the building. I wonder how his meeting with Dick Hackett will go. It is still Advent.