A lady stepped in while I was working at the desk at the church today and mentioned that there was a man sprawled out on the concrete next to the door, and asked if I knew anything about that. I told her I didn't, but I would check it out. So, I sauntered around the corner, opened the door to the outside world, out of the air conditioning and into the beginnings of a sticky Chattanooga summer. I couldn't see the top half of his body, as it was blocked by a section of the wall, but his legs were rather contorted and glistened from the humid air around them. I stepped around the wall and first noticed that he was fairly well-dressed: Yellow polo shirt tucked into his nice khaki shorts with a brown belt to match the brown boat shoes on his feet, with sunglasses shielding what I could tell were closed eyes.
The lifeguard inside of me snapped to attention as I squatted down to tap him on his shoulder. Step one: survey the scene. Step two: check for signs of life (read here: consciousness). His eyelids fluttered to life and as he smacked his lips, and I could tell by the foam around the edges of where they met that this man was parched. "Sir, my name is Hamilton, is there something that I can do for you?" I said. His lips moved, his vocal chords shuttered, but it was not words that escaped from his mouth. "I'm going to help you up," I said. "Are you ok with that?" He nodded his approval, but recoiled immediately with the slight change in altitude, burying his face in his hands. I sat down next to him.
He didn't even have to talk, because I could smell the alcohol radiating from his pores in the hot sun. I asked him to scoot back against the building with my help and wait there while I went inside to get some water for him. I returned in about thirty seconds with a cold bottle of water, only to find him dozing again. I asked him if he wanted me to help him inside so that he could sit in a chair in the air conditioning. He then explained to me through words rear-ending each other how he was here for a function being put on inside of the church, but he had "messed up big time." The people in charge of the dinner kicked him out for being drunk and left him outside the front door because they were going to miss their dinner inside the air conditioning.
I kept talking with him, and he kept on asking me something kinda puzzling. "What are you trying to get at?" The first time I didn't really know what to say, so I repeated the statement I had said before, something about asking if he wanted to come inside. But by about the fourth time he asked it, I simply said "I'm just trying to talk to you, man." He turned away for a second and his voice got shakier, rather than slurrier. "You're the first person going in and out of this g--d--- building who's said anything to me." He didn't say thank you, he didn't start crying, he didn't even look at me, but I knew he didn't need to to get his point across. It made me a little bit sick, knowing that it wasn't a traditional, shirt-and-tie affair we're talking about, it was a recovery program. They weren't people going into and out of a strip club, they were entering a church building.
Two people stepped out of the room right about then and lit cigarettes as soon as they tasted the hot air. "Come on, Mike, let's go. We're taking you home," they said. I helped him get on his feet and find his balance. They walked side by side in front of him as they strode with resolution towards the sea of cars in front of them. Some people coming to work out walked right by them and tossed their glances backwards as they passed. I went back inside, whatever relief coming from being out of the heat evaporating as soon as I saw the big room full of successfully "transformed" people talking jovially amongst themselves and tossing their leftover barbecue, potatoes and broccoli into trash cans at the doors.