September 8, 2006

New Life

His hair was matted and dirty. His bushy beard badly needed a trim. His scruffy clothes showed signs of total neglect. He was a sorry sight. You see, Ben was homeless. For years, he had been visiting the local Community Services. Here he felt accepted for what he was. Here he knew he could get food and a change of clean clothes.

He always needed a hat. Sometimes, he would bring in his soiled hat to be laundered. Once he showed up drunk and a flow of gruff angry words spilled out. But most of the time he was appreciative of the services for which he came. Those who worked at the Community Services began to look forward to his regular visits. They would worry if he hadn't been in for a couple of weeks or more and wonder how he was doing.

One day I asked Ben if he wouldn't mind having his picture taken. He was happy to oblige. I promised that I would give him the print once I got it developed. When he showed up the following week, I handed him the printed photograph. Ben was pleasantly surprised and said his experience was that people never kept promises. Gratefully, he accepted the photograph and tucked it carefully in his shirt pocket.

Three weeks later, Ben came again to see us. This time I could hardly recognize him. His long unruly hair had been shampooed, cut, and combed. The shaggy straggly beard was gone. His clothes were neat and clean. His deep blue eyes twinkled. And there was not a hint of alcohol in his breath.

"Ben!" I exclaimed in obvious delight. "What happened to you?"

"I cleaned up", he said with a little smile. " I want to start a new life."