In a way street pastors never leave work. Years of street work changes you, how you see and how you react, wherever you find yourself. You sometimes move into an observed need, gently, carefully.
Thus, ninety minutes north of Preble street, Portland ME, at the end of a Wednesday work day at my other job (many of us work one or two of these), and trying to fit in a computer-related appointment after work with the Geek squad at the Augusta ME Best Buy, I saw a man in my headlights just up from the right turn into the BB parking trying to cross the road with his aluminum walker. The several cars before me pulled wide to avoid him and, when I stopped to roll down my passenger side window, the car behind me honked its horn.
It was late afternoon, fully dark, and very cold, 10-15 degrees. The man was youngish, very big, somewhat disheveled, and wore only cotton pants, a white tee shirt, and an open zippered gray sweat shirt, not even a hoodie. He appeared disoriented by the swerving and honking cars. He was in the middle of the crosswalk and had just begun very slowly and deliberately to turn his walker around. Nearing the curb then, he saw that I’d stopped and rolled down my window, and he pushed his walker over to me.
"Can I take you anywhere?" I asked.
He pointed to my shirt pocket and signed, I need to write.
I saw that he could not speak but could hear. I handed him my street pad and a ballpoint pen. Bending over by the open car door for these (because he is big and my car is small), he took the pad and wrote, "Shaw's."
I said, "Yes, I’ll take you there," and added, "but I have a ten-minute appointment at Best Buy, can you wait in the car?"
It was warmed up by then. He was stone cold, I could see, but sweating. I’ve been that way too. He put a thumb up and signed that I open the back door, where he stowed the walker. Then he squeezed into my front passenger seat. I pulled into the BB parking lot and parked. "You'll be okay?" I asked.
He signed, "Yes."
After ten minutes with the good Geek Squad, I came out to the car to see whether he was okay. I think I woke him up.
He signed, "Okay." The car was still warm enough.
The GS gentleman knew I had a man in need waiting in my car and kindly moved right through our work. Ten minutes later, fearing I might see my rider wandering away, but relieved to find him settled still in the front seat, I jumped in and drove off to the nearby Shaw's. He pointed the way at each turn and smiled, knowingly.
At the supermarket entrance, he hauled out of the front seat, I went around and handed him his walker, and he turned carefully to walk in through automatic doors. People weren’t sure how to handle his slowness I could see. He’s used to that, I thought. He then turned and, smiling me the sweetest smile I have ever received, ever, gave me a thumbs up. Then, almost as an afterthought, he pointed to the litter on the pavement from my car floor (sock wrappers from the previous day’s work at Preble street) which had spilled out as he’d pulled himself from the front seat. As if to say thanks for picking up that stuff.
Pastor Mair calls these sorts of encounter miracles. And you know what? They are.