I met Ron three months ago. Before the pandemic ushered us into a world of caution, Ron walked into the church lobby and took a seat right in the middle of our meeting. I didn’t mind the interruption, and Matthew fully embraced it.
Within seconds, I knew that Matthew and Ron were friends. He had somehow wandered into the Friendship House, so he met our church staff and volunteers. There’s something about being loved and valued that keeps a person coming back for more. Ron’s life was a mess, and he wanted to talk. Awkwardness emerged as we were seated in the restaurant, and Watami’s menu made it worse. I tried to help: “I think you would like the eel avocado roll, Tom Yum soup or the squid salad.” He looked at me like I was from another planet. That’s actually not far from the truth. We live in different worlds. He proceeded to order the closest thing to meat and potatoes, and began to tell me his story. As he opened a window into his life and into the homeless community, I not only met deep brokenness and pain, I met a man who loves deeply, who wants to be loved in return, and who wants his life to have meaning and beauty. I knew in that moment that our worlds were not that far apart.
I finished my sermon at the Awakening service and sat down in my normal place on the front row. The band played the final song, the congregation moved forward to the baptismal font to remember their baptism, and I became lost in worship. I opened my eyes to the movement beside me. Ron was in tears. Weeks before, he had found his way into Sunday morning worship, possibly lured by the smell of good coffee. There’s something about knowing you are loved and valued that transforms a heart. It happened to my heart decades ago. Ron got in line with his new faith community, re- membered his baptism, and recommitted his life to Jesus.
I walked out of my office two weeks ago and there was Ron, standing in the lobby where we first met. I immediately moved in for a big hug, but my mask and the hand sanitizer machine reminded me to back away. His face was full of life—completely covered up with joy. Ron had been volunteering at the Friendship House. He asked for a ride, and we talked about his favorite song, I Can Only Imagine. I dropped him off at his apartment and we made plans for lunch. He had a massive heart attack later that day.
I woke up too early on Saturday. My soul was restless. My friend was dead, and it seemed the whole world was on fire. I took out the trash, walking barefooted into the dark morning, and the moon stopped me in my tracks. Full and bright, I marveled at this mysterious world so far away. I wondered about the people who encountered this moon long ago, before the telescope and before Neil Armstrong. Sitting in my chair by the lamp, wondering what I would say at Ron’s funeral, the moon suddenly moved into full view. Each time I looked through the glass door, I noticed its brightness fading, until the fast approaching day made it completely invisible to me. But in spite of the sun’s power, I knew the moon was still there.
We couldn’t find an obituary, if one even existed. It’s hard to find an obituary when you don’t know your friend’s last name. I sat in my chair and wept. I’ve been doing lots of that these days. Weeping tears of sadness and anger and shame. Too many people are living worlds apart. Too many people are completely invisible to me. I know that’s why the fires are burning. I know that’s why I have to walk on the moon.