Yes, My Brother?

On Saturday morning, I hauled myself out of bed at 6:15 a.m. to make the trek back to the ministry to volunteer. I will have to admit, I wasn’t particularly chipper about being awake at that hour. In fact, I bit Amy’s head off misplacing my debit card… Don’t worry, she had reattached it by the time I made it back home. But she did look a bit pitiful wandering back to her room with her head tucked under her arm. Anyway…

I made a half hour drive in 15 minutes and still beat the volunteer coordinator there. I walked in to get myself situated, grab as spot behind the pastry tables and fuss with napkins and whatnot. I heard someone else come in. I looked up and realized that it was one of the homeless guys I had served on Thursday. His piercing blue eyes and Castro-esque beard make him rather memorable. He was wearing a volunteer apron and busily organizing little cans of cranberry juice to be distributed. Then he fussed about the floor, sweeping it and mopping it again before we even let anyone in the door.

As soon as we opened the door, we were flooded with hungry, cold men and women. The coffee was gone in five minutes. There was muttering about the Mayor not opening the emergency shelter, even though the temperature had dipped into the low 40s. Coffee runs had to be made every 20 minutes or so. People spilled drinks, dropped crumbs. And throughout all the bustle, he was still busily tidying up, serving people coffee, mopping up the spills. He would call out to anyone that looked lost, “What can I get you, my brother?” He had a smooth but thick Columbian accent. Some of the guys referred to him as “Paco.” He just laughed it off with a quick, “Yes, my brother?”

When we closed up for a few minutes to re-mop the floor, he was insistent that he take over so that the rest of us could sit down for a minute. In those few quiet(er) minutes, he told me about picking coffee in Columbia. Coffee is a very delicate crop, one that can succumb to a freeze or a rain at an inopportune time and cost the farmer three years worth of work. He told me that it is difficult for him to reconcile his environmentalism with his love for coffee; the coffee residue washed into the rivers after harvest is toxic and kills the aquatic life that surrounds the plantations. But coffee is his passion.

As the morning wore on, he made sure to pass me a note when one of the men began experiencing extreme drug withdrawal symptoms. He wanted to make sure I understood what was happening and that I wasn’t frightened. He described all the places that he and his community of “brothers” go each day to be fed. He said it is really time consuming to be homeless, which is why they don’t work. That was the first time I really heard him laugh. And I laughed. At us, sitting together. At myself for finding that so extraordinary. And at my fledgling understanding that we really all are brothers.

His name is Humberto. He is a man of integrity, compassion and intelligence. Although he is homeless, he has far more than many people. I count myself blessed for having met him.

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One Comment on “Yes, My Brother?”

  1. little one Says:

    He sounds like someone that will always leave a footprint in your heart. I think I need to volunteer, too.

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