Walter’s Story—and Being Challenged by a Simple Gesture

My church, St. David’s Episcopal, offers breakfast on Sunday mornings. They recently started a Breakfast Greeter ministry where a member stays in the breakfast area to welcome parishioners and keeps an eye out for new people. If you stood in the room, you would see many tables filled with people laughing and talking.

But if you are new to the breakfast….. it can be daunting to stand in a room full of people while holding a tray in your hand trying to figure out where you should sit… wondering if the persons at the table would welcome you or want to talk to you.

As a single woman, I have attended events at other places where I asked if I could sit at a table and was told “No, this seat is reserved for Clementine”. Rejection always stings—whether it is personal or not. I have also sat at tables with extremely quiet people who made no attempt to chat with me. Their silence was deafening.

It is like being in the high school cafeteria again—the fear of rejection has an icy cold grip on my heart.

As a woman who has stood both in the high school cafeteria and in rooms without the security net of a person being beside me, I understand the fears. Thus, I signed up to be a Breakfast Greeter.

One part of the greeter program has truly been easy for me…simply walking around the room with my cup of coffee in hand and asking people how their week went or trying to find something to laugh about. (Long time readers may remember my son once told me when I expressed some hesitation about talking to strangers: “First of all you can strike up a conversation with a door knob.  I’ve seen you do it first-hand.”)

But, sometimes it has been more challenging…. more thought provoking….. as with this past Sunday.

I noticed a slender average age man hanging outside before breakfast and once they started serving breakfast, he came in. He clothes were worn but clean. I introduced myself and showed him where the plates were and so forth. He got his food and coffee and sat down at a table at the far side of the room. Other people came in but no one sat with him.

I often eat later in the hour but instead I got my food and went to his table and asked if he would mind if I sat with him. He seemed pleased by the gesture and we introduced ourselves. His name was Walter and he shared that he was homeless. He had not eaten in two days.

Over the next 40+ minutes, I sat with him and we chatted. He was originally from Savannah and moved here to be closer to his sister. He had a job but got laid off. Walter was very polite and soft-spoken.

During the time I sat with him two other parishioners, both friends of mine, joined us at the table…one at the beginning of our time together and one near the end. When one of them was sitting there, I felt I could leave to visit other tables but kept returning back to check on Walter.

Walter talked about his friend, Homer, who just got out of the hospital and he is also homeless. Homer is a diabetic and Walter asked if there was any way he could have some food to take to him. We all agreed that it needed to be weighted more towards protein (eggs and sausage) as I was afraid to send a homeless diabetic a meal full of carbohydrates!  I did not want him going back to the hospital in a diabetic coma.  (However, I could not resist including a piece of raisin toast!!)

After I created the take-out box for Walter, he said he would go on as he had to walk some distance and he wanted his friend to get the food while it was warm. As he stood up to leave, he asked us to keep Homer in our prayers and I said we would do one better. I saw our priest, Ken Swanson, at the next table and took Walter to him and quickly told Ken the story. Ken said a prayer for Walter and Homer and blessed the food. I then watched Walter as he walked across the parking lot with his prized food box gripped firmly in his hands.

And now, several days later, I cannot shake the images of and thoughts about Walter from my mind.

In spite of what has to be a very difficult life, Walter expressed a faith that I am not sure I would have… he said he knew God would watch out for him. I can be whiny at times or complain about what are truly insignificant annoyances in my life—and yet this homeless man who had not eaten for two days still believed God watched out for him.

I stand in awe at that kind of steadfast faith.

And then…. there are the images rattling around in my head and heart…..

Before Walter left to take the food to Homer, he collected our plates and silverware and took them back to the kitchen. This quiet gesture…. so polite and so mannerly…. touched my heart. I can still see his slender hands reaching across the table….. collecting our items. He did not have to do this…… he could have simply stood up and left.

In his own way, he was giving something back to us ….. just as Jesus served others…. Walter did the same. It was such a simple gesture and yet….. the dignity of it touched me greatly.

I watched him as he crossed the room….. going past tables filled with laughing people….. and all I could think was…..a homeless man walks among them…. and they do not know it.

I have been personally challenged by that thought—and I wonder… many times in my day am I in the same room with someone who is carrying pain or hurt and they walk past me and I do not know it.

Talking to Walter has encouraged me to make sure I look beyond the table I am sitting at….to look for ways to reach out to others… to be a small part of their story.

The truth of the matter is….. we are part of a community and our stories are interconnected. Some stories may not end well and I cannot change the outcome. I am not foolish enough to think if Walter returns for another meal then he will begin a new life that leads to a house in the suburbs and he will be able to sleep with a roof over his head.

Yet, that sobering reality should not stop me from trying to write a short paragraph in his life story or the stories of others….. using a pen filled with kindness and love.

I simply have to be willing to pick up the pen and begin writing.

The question that now remains for me—and maybe for you—is….. am I willing to do so?

And where do I begin?


13 thoughts on “Walter’s Story—and Being Challenged by a Simple Gesture

  1. So inspiring Janet! Such a wonderful reminder that most of those who are homeless are just like you and me….and the words of Jesus to love one another

  2. A touching story well told. When we realize our frustration with all the bad things happening in the world can be mollified by positively affecting another life, one at a time, it brings us peace of mind. This was exemplified in your interaction with Walter. Nice post.

    P.S. Your son’s doorknob comment had me in stitches!

    • Yes, my son also has a way with words!! He actually wrote that to me. Sigh.
      Thank you for your comments about the story–I agree with you entirely.

      On another note, I enjoyed your story/article honoring the military. And how is your hip and when is your surgery?

      • Not until July 17th. In the meantime I continue to hobble even more. Using a cane when I first get up in the morning. Thank you for remembering and asking, Janet

      • If it is any encouragement, I am now riding my bicycle with my grandchildren. They are faster than me but I can hold my own! You will do great and will feel so much better!

      • Thanks Janet, your encouragement is much appreciated. I’ll be happy if I can still walk the pups without pain.

  3. That’s a beautiful blog entry, Janet. What an emotional encounter! And you wrote about it with sensitivity and respect. I admire you and the way you do God’s work.

    • Thank you. It was a moment that has truly touched my heart. … On another note, your grandson is adorable! I love the smiles and joy I see on your face and in the pictures. Enjoy!

  4. What a wonderful story. You never know what people are going through, so it’s good to offer as much help as you can. Whether the food was for Homer or to keep for later, any time anyone is hungry, they should be feed – physically and spiritually.

    • It is true–you have no idea as to the depth of problems or issues the person next to you is facing… and we need to offer more compassion when we can. Thank you. jfh

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