Billy Huynh 571649 Unsplash

The Man on the Other End of the Phone

Someone recently said that all of my FB posts were depressing. I told him I planned to start posting pictures of puppies any day now. I haven’t found the exact right one but meanwhile, here’s a really good thing that happened at Open Table Nashville this week. This happens every week but the details are different each time.

A man I’ve never met called me on my work phone. He had a nice speaking voice, direct and engaging. He said he’d spent about the last few years trying to kill himself with alcohol (I’m paraphrasing) and he’d lost everything now, had gone to treatment, been sober thirty days, was currently homeless, working at a temp service, staying in a motel some nights, trying to get into transitional housing, and very aware that his sobriety was at risk. He was emotional. Rightfully so. I asked him a number of questions and tried to dial back his desperation a little by going through some options. It became clear that all he really needed was one of two things, either the first month’s rent, Four-hundred-seventy-five dollars, or free room and board for a couple of weeks until he could save the money himself.

It seemed possible from my view but I told him that the only guarantee I could give him was that I’d do the best I could to find a solution. Last week (in a similar but far more harrowing situation) I spent the money of a number of churches and agencies and felt obligated to give them a break. Instead, I called on a friend who long ago, found himself in a similar situation. I figured if anyone had access to information or contacts, it would be him and come to find out, I was right. He hooked me up with programs, benevolence funds, and a couple of humans who were willing to brainstorm ideas. I began to get excited, thinking it might happen but still not sure it wouldn’t take another week. A week is a long time in the mind of someone who is just out of rehab. The four of us exchanged e-mails for a minute. When my original friend realized we weren’t looking for a scholarship but more of an entry fee, he wrote: Will $475 do the trick for him?
Then he wrote: Put me down for it. Can I just pay with Paypal to you?

That is when I was humbled out of my skull at 6:25 on a Wednesday morning. I thanked my friend for his sustained generosity and then — I got to call a man who the day before was worried sick for his life and tell him that some kind person gave him the money.

This moment, this phone call, is a precious gift to everyone involved, the patron, the human, and me. There aren’t any guarantees in this sort of work. There’s no criteria, no checklist or tool that can capture and qualify the results of these human experiences and no need for it. This is nothing but skidding head long into loving the people that surround us, even when it could be awkward or inconvenient. It’s about making a choice, about adding stability to someone’s life. It made him cry. He offered to buy me lunch (remember we’ve never met). I told him to get settled into his new routine and call me once he was down the road a bit and I hope he does. And just because it was in fact, that sort of day.. here’s a puppy.