It was like something from a Star Trek movie, almost like traveling through a wormhole. One by one trees, buildings, and towns flew by. Just one blink and one would miss an entire town. But this train wasn’t going to a place where just a few hundred people lived. No. It was flying speedily to the great city of Chicago.
This was the view of a few young college students looking for a Friday night of adventure in the city. Although what they called adventure, most people might not agree as a particularly adventurous way to spend the beginning of a weekend. For they were speeding to Chicago not to get drunk nor to go to some crazy party but rather to talk to homeless people, to hear stories and to share their own.
Now, as they stared out the window, the trees and the towns of the suburbs began to give way to skyscrapers and city lights and then eventually to darkness. They had entered the tunnel at the end of the track. And as the stepped out into the bustling city night, a cold blast of air hit them. Buildings towering like mountains over them glimmered with the reflection of headlights as they moved along the streets which were filled with the noise of the city traffic.
Soon, they split into groups of threes and dispersed into the chilly night air hunting for the invisible of the city, the homeless. One group of three lagged behind stopping at a store to buy some food to hand out. After stocking up their provisions, they followed their companions into the maze of the busy city.
Three blocks, two turns, and one mini game of Frogger later, they found him. “Ansel.” He replied when they asked his name; he was an old homeless man sitting on an upside down bucket on the side of the street. They offered him two oranges, which he gladly excepted. And as the three young college students sat around him, he began to tell his story. “Jamaica is my home.” He said as he wrapped his tattered blanket close around him. “I came here illegally when I was young to be with my family. Now I am old, and my family is gone. I have no papers so I can not work, and I can not get any government help.” They felt like children in a library listening to a parent on a stool reading them a story. As the three students looked into his eyes as he spoke, they could see a wealth of wisdom and experience in them. He continued to speak, telling them about life on the streets and his ministry. “See these two oranges?” They nodded. “One I will eat, and one I will give away. All the homeless in this city know they can come to me and get help. I have nothing, but still I give.”
As what he said sunk into them, a deep admiration grew for Ansel within them. They looked at their own lives, bright young college students who had their whole lives ahead of them. Yet, they did not have a heart as this man did. They continued to talk to Ansel. Well, actually they did very little talking and a lot of listening. As one and then two hours passed by, they continued to sit spellbound listening to Ansel’s stories and his wisdom. They could hardly notice all the glances of the people passing quickly by wondering what these kids were doing talking to that lazy, old bumb.
All to soon it was time for the three to leave, meet up with their group, and head back to the train station. They walked away in silence reflecting on what they had just experienced. They would never forget that night nor Ansel. Yet, as they walked away, he had already become invisible again. Just another shadow on a busy street.