Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Son of a Gun
M Adam Roberts

I was sitting, in the park, late one evening, working on an important project, which I needed to complete, when an old acquaintance approached me. I saw him coming toward me. "Oh, Great," raced through my mind. I came to the park so I could get some peace and quiet." I found myself a wonderful, shade tree, to sit under, far off from everybody else. I settled in and got myself ready to work, when my acquaintance appeared. I really wasn't in the mood for a friendly visit.

A chat was inevitable. My friend was heading right for me, a big, happy smile on his face. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I put a big, happy face on, and prepared myself for an embrace.

After shaking hands and giving a manly style hug, he asked if he could sit, with me, for a minute. What could I say? I'd rather you not sit down. I said, "Sure! It's good to see you, buddy! So, how have you been, man? It's been a long time!" I knew my peaceful evening in the park, was over. My Project had to wait, until another day.

Kevin is the friend who joined me, that evening, in the park. He was so happy to see me. Kevin and I used to work together, years ago. For some reason, he has always looked up to me. He has always believed me a saint.

A homeless alcoholic, Kevin is 49 years old and has lived on the streets for over 20 years. Despite his living conditions and addiction, Kevin's clean cut, and intelligent. He has a good job, helping install heating and cooling units, for a local company.

Kevin stays drunk. Unlike many or most that drink, steadily and heavily, as Kevin does, his demeanor is always kind, appreciative and polite. Even when drunk, he is a humble and gentle man.

It has always bothered Kevin that he has a drinking problem. He knows there is more to life than staying being a drunk. He longs for more. He wants to quit. He doesn't know how to stop drinking.

Kevin once told me drinking is the only life he knows. He started drinking at the age of ten. His whole family drinks. All his friends drink. Almost everyone he knows drinks, too much. He has tried his whole life, to quit, but he just can't. It's something that embarrasses him, shames him to admit.

To make conversation, I asked Kevin if he had ever eaten at the new restaurant, across from the park. He said, no, he hadn't. I told him

I had heard great reviews about it, and I'd like to try it, sometime.

At this, his face lit up, as if the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself. In a voice, full of excitement, he asked me, "Are you hungry? Would you like to go, now? I have some money, and it's my treat!"

What do I say? I hesitated. I really wanted to finish my project, alone. Besides, I also wasn't sure that Kevin had enough money to pay the bill. This was an expensive restaurant, and I wasn't carrying much money, not enough to cover two meals. I told him,"That's a great nice offer, Kevin, and I really appreciate it, but I think I'll pass. I'm really not that hungry, right now."

Kevin pleaded. "Please, let's go! I'll pay for everything. You can order anything you want or only get a drink, if that's all you want. I would really enjoy your company, Mark. I don't have any good friends. All my friends are drunks. I haven't been to a nice restaurant in many, years. I have never had anyone to go with. Please, let's go. I really need a friend to talk to, and you're the most decent person I know.

How could I refuse his humble and gracious invitation? He was a lonely and hurting man, completely sober. I agreed. He smiled, from ear to ear, as he picked up his old, dirty back-pack, with sleeping bag attachment, and said, "Let's go."

We crossed the street, to the restaurant. We entered. A host greeted us. Kevin asked if there was somewhere, he could store his bag. I think he didn't want to embarrass me, carrying it through the restaurant. She showed him a place where he could leave it. She was very kind, and acted as if he request was perfectly normal. I appreciated that.

The host showed us to a well-located table. She asked what we would like to drink. I ordered a Coke. Kevin ordered a beer, of course. That worried me. I thought to myself,"What have I gotten myself, into? I hope he won't drink too much. I hope he has enough money to pay the bill because I sure don't! I shouldn't have come."

I was worried about how the bill was going to be paid. I didn't want to say, "Show me the money." That wouldn't be cool. I'm sure the host assumed I was the one with the money. All I could think was that I would beg to wash dishes, if it came down to that. What else could I do? I tried to relax, so that I could enjoy my meal. I was going to have to trust, Kevin. I was already committed. I tried to make the best of it.

Kevin said I should order anything I want. I ordered the cheapest meal, on the menu. It was $9.99, plus the cost of my Coke. Kevin ordered the same. I don't think he knew how to order anything else. Besides, I don't really think he was there for the food. He seemed quite content, with his beer and my company.

It wasn't long before the server arrived with our meals, which were delicious! Kevin was so proud to be able to provide the food, for us. He was happy to see I enjoyed my meal; that was important to him. I could tell it made him feel good to be able to give something, to me. It seemed as if this were the happiest day of his life. He ordered one more beer, and then he got serious.

"Did you hear," Kevin said. "I had a heart attack and died. That was a couple of years, ago."

I said, "No, I hadn't heard about his heart attack." Are you serious?"

"Yes," said Kevin, I am most serious. "It happened twice. Only six months after my first heart attack, I had a stroke. I was dead, once again. I spent a year in physical therapy learning how to walk, and talk, all over again. It's a miracle I'm here with you, today."

I asked him to tell me more.

He told me the first time he died he had a massive heart attack. The paramedics claimed he had no pulse for almost three minutes. He told me that he was aware of everything going on, as they revived him. He said he looked down on his body, lying there, on the street. He watched the paramedics work to bring him back to life. He saw all the people standing around, watching.

That was not all he saw. The second time he died, said Kevin, he was in the hospital. He suffered a stroke, only six months after his heart attack. Again, after several days in the hospital, his heart stopped. Several minutes passed before the physicians brought him back to life.

He told me he watched, and heard, the whole experience, from above his bed. He said, "It is a strange thing, looking down on your own body." Again, he claimed, that was not all he saw.

Kevin is an uneducated, but not stupid. He is intelligent. What he told me next, I believe because of the conviction in his voice, when he said it. Kevin was not making this up. He trembled, as he told me, about this experience. His voice quivered, as he tried to explain.

"Mark," he said, "You're going to think I'm crazy. Everyone thinks I'm crazy, when I tell my story. They think I'm making it up or I was hallucinating those times when I died. I know what I saw. I know I'm not crazy. I know I wasn't hallucinating. What I saw was real! It was as real, as you and I, sitting here, right now.

"Do you believe in Jesus?"

I said I do. "Have you ever seen, Jesus," asked Kevin.

"No," I said, "I haven't."

"Well," said Kevin, "it is good you believe in Jesus because I saw Him. He was there both times I died."

Kevin explained, "I have never been a religious man. I never believed in Jesus, until after I died. Both times, he was there. The first time, he looked terrible! I was scared." His voice trembled, and his mouth quivered, as he tried to explain to me.

"Jesus," said Kevin, "looked right at me, for only a second, but it seemed like forever. He didn't say anything. He just looked at me. His eyes, I cannot describe, His eyes were full of love. His hair seemed wet and greasy, stringy and uncombed, His face bruised and beaten. His mouth was bleeding. His robe was soaked in blood. He looked horrible. I was so scared! All of a sudden, He was gone and I was back in my body.

I didn't know what to say. I asked,"What about the second time you died. Kevin? What happened then?"

He said, "Well, I was lying in my hospital bed, when suddenly, I heard the nurse call a "Code Blue." I saw all these medical people come running in to my room and begin working on me, again.

"I could see everything going on, as the last time. I could hear everything they were saying, just like before. I noticed a bright light enter into my room. I turned to look to see what it was, and sure enough, there He was! It was Jesus.

"This time He looked fantastic! He was wearing His dress whites. His hair looked perfect. His robe was a brilliant, white. He was beautiful, beyond description.

"He looked at me, again, and didn't say anything. This time, a great peace come over me, as never knew, before. He was only with me for a second.

"Suddenly, my body sat, straight up, in the bed! Someone screamed." Everyone believed I was dead."

Kevin laughed! He thought that was funny. "They thought I was dead, again," he said.

I asked Kevin about the second time he saw Jesus, if he was scared." He said, "Oh, yes, I was scared." His voice trembled, again. His lips quivered. "Anytime you see, Jesus, you're scared!"

Kevin asked if I'd seen Jesus. I had to admit, no, I hadn't. For a moment, I felt left out, of an important experience.

"I sure saw Him," said Kevin. "I saw Him twice, both times, when I died. You can think I'm crazy, if you want too. 'Go ahead, call me nuts.' I don't care. I know what I saw. Jesus was there."

We talked a little longer. Finally, I suggested we go. It was getting late, and I had others things I needed to do, before going home. Kevin stuff he needed to do, do.

We called the server, and asked for the check. She handed it to me. Kevin, took it from me, and looked at the bottom line, to see how much we owed, for the dinner.

"Thirty-five dollars, and some change," he said. "That's not bad." I was relieved. He asked if seven dollars was enough for a tip. I said it was generous. He placed $42.00, and some change, into the check folder, and handed it to the server. He told her, "Thank you, for the wonderful service, young lady." She thanked us, for coming, and wished us a nice evening.

As I started to leave, Kevin stopped me. "Mark," he said, "hold up, a minute. I have something I want to give you."

I said, "What is it?" Kevin reached around his neck and took off his necklace. "It's Jesus," he said.

I looked at the necklace. It was an old coin, with the face of Jesus, imprinted on it. It had letters, of a language other than English, written all around it. The necklace attached to an old and tarnished gold chain.

"A homeless man gave me this necklace, many years ago," said Kevin. "He wore it for many years, before giving it to me. I have been wearing it ever since the day he gave it to me. I now want to give it to you, Mark.

"This necklace is the most valuable and precious thing I own," said Kevin. "It has power in it. It saved my life and protected me, many times.

"Whenever I'm scared, in danger, or confused, I take this necklace, into my hand and I pray to Jesus, for help. It will protect you, now, Mark. I want you to have it. There is no one else that I want to have this necklace, other than you.

"You are the kindest, most innocent person, I know. I have held on to it, for all these years, but tonight something is leading me to pass it on to you. I want you to promise me you will never sell it. You don't have to wear it, but at least keep it near your side. It will keep you safe, and protect you. If you want to pass it on to someone else, someday, that is up to you. Please, never sell it. Will you promise me, you won't ever sell it?"

I promised him.

I was so touched that he would give me such a precious gift, the most valuable item he owned.

"I am blessing you, by giving you this gift," said Mark. "You realize that, don't you?"

I told him, I did and I sincerely accepted his gift, and his blessing. I told him that I would always treasure it. I thanked him a dozen times, over. I knew what a sacrifice it was for him to give it to me. I knew how much he must have believed in, me, and cared, for me, to want me to have it. It really touched my heart.

Kevin then said something I didn't understand. He said there was a reason he was giving me, the necklace, that night. "I'm not going to tell you what that reason is, but there is a reason why I'm giving it to you," he said. I begged him to tell me the reasons. He smiled, refusing to tell me.

It was late. I reminded him I needed to get going. He said. He also needed to go.

We walked out of the restaurant, and stood out in the parking lot, for a minute, to say our goodbye. Kevin thanked me, repeatedly, for sharing the evening, with him. He told me what an honor it was to have a friend, like me.

He said he hoped we could get together again, sometime. I promised we would and, next time, it was my treat. He looked forward to when we'd spend another evening together.

We shook hands; he headed off, alone, across the park. I stood there, watching walk away. I knew he had nowhere to go, except back to his drinking friends and a cardboard mattress.

It was hard to watch him go. I wanted to help him, somehow. I wanted to bless him, as he had blessed me. Maybe, I did, by just being there, for him. That's all he really wanted.

The next morning, I saw Kevin in the park again, on my way to work. He was pleased to see me, but serious, than last night. He seemed sad." I showed him that I was wearing, his gift. It pleased him. I told him, on payday that week, I was going to take him to my favourite buffet. He said, "That would be great! I really look forward to it." He wished me a good day. I wished him one, also.

The following day, Kevin wasn't in the park. He wasn't there the next day or the next. I asked around. Had anyone seen or knew about him. Nobody knew.

It was as if he had vanished. A couple months passed. There was no sign of Kevin, anywhere. Finally, a friend of his came to me, as I passed through the park, and said, "Did you hear about Kevin?"

I said, "No. How is he?" The friend informed me that Kevin had passed away. They found him in the place where he slept. He died of natural causes.

I felt so sad to hear the news. He came to me, offering his blessing," not long before he died. "Why me," I wondered. He hardly knew me, when you thought about it.

A strange, unexplainable incident happened, recently. I stored his gift away, in a very safe place, until I could have it cleaned. The chain and the medallion were old and tarnished. I wanted to have the necklace cleaned, by someone who knows what she or he is doing, so I could wear it, in memory of Kevin.

The other day, I decided, finally, to take the necklace to a cleaner. When I went to get it, from the secure storage area, it was gone. No one else can access the storage, only me. There is no way I lost the necklace. I never touched after storing it. Somehow, it's gone. A stranger part is that the old, tarnished chain is where I left it, but the medallion is gone.

I write this posting for my friend, Kevin. He came, before he passed, to tell me he twice saw Jesus. It was important, to him, for me to believe. He left me with the greatest gift he had to give: his faith, and his testimony. I'll never forget Kevin or "The Gift" he gave me.

M Adam Roberts lives and writes from Clearwater, Florida.

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