After I left the library yesterday I decided to try to find shelter at a church for the day and evening. I’d debated whether or not to seek shelter at churches, thinking maybe I should just let shelter “come to me” if I needed it. But I recalled a dream I had in which I was scared and was losing faith, and I saw a church ahead of me, and I wanted to make it there. That and the church’s stated mission is to be a comfort to the weary. Well, I was wearied and needed comforting so it seemed a good match.
I started walking to the closest church when a guy climbing out of a parked blue sports car asked me where I was traveling. I told him about my pilgrimage and said I was looking for churches. He told me there was one on the hill up ahead, but that it was probably closed, but if I didn’t mind waiting for him, he could give me a lift to the other ones in another part of town.
I checked the church on the hill. Empty. Went back to where the guy’s car was parked and waited. He came back with his fiance and a friend of theirs and we talked briefly. They were all very friendly and wished me luck.
The guy – we’ll call him “Leonard” – drove me to one church, but no one was there. He then said that if I needed a place to stay, he knew of an abandoned building where a painter was squatting.
“Let’s go see it,” I said.
He drove us there, and we saw the painter across the street, hanging out near the dumpster of a small Italian restaurant. “Hey!” said Leonard, trying to get his attention, calling him by name.
The painter just stared at us for a long moment. Then he disappeared behind the restaurant.
“Fuck him,” said Leonard. “He knows we’re trying to get you in there. He just doesn’t want to share the place. Come on, let’s go check it out.”
We walked up the stairs and into the apartment. It was a nice looking apartment. There was a pile of trash in front of the front door.
“Unbelievable!” said Leonard. “What a pig!”
Leonard tried one of the doors but it wass locked. The window next to the door wa sopen. He climbed through the window and unlocked the door from the inside, letting me in.
I entered, and although I can’t be sure, I think I smell gas.
The painter’s things were strewn all over the room. There was a green slice of pizza on the floor.
“Unbelievable,” said Leonard. “This is such a nice place, I can’t believe he’s treated it this way.”
There’s no running water, but the lights still worked. Leonard turned on the stove and it lighted. “Well, you got gas!” he said happily. I want to say that I think I smell gas, but I feel like maybe I’m just imagining things and I don’t want to come off as being overly skittish and paranoid.
We found a room that is fairly empty and clean. I put my stuff down. Leonard went downstairs to explore the bathroom. I smelled a powerful stench coming from there. He came back up. “You don’t want to go down there,” he says.
I start picking up my things. “You know…I think I’m going to take my chances with the churches,” I said.
We left. I felt bad. I felt like Leonard was really happy to have been able to introduce me to this place, and that I’ve disappointed him somewhat by not staying. I’m also concerned that I look like a coward for not being tough enough to tough it out in this weird-ass apartment. After all, it’s a free place to stay, and it is going to rain tonight. Beggars can’t be choosers.
But I remember when I first entered the place, I prayed to the spirits “What do you think of this place?” The response I got was, “More importantly, what do YOU think?”
I didn’t like it. It gave me a bad vibe. It was gut level thing. I got better vibes from the place I stayed the night before, in the valley, and I was way more exposed out there.
Leonard was kind enough to drive me to the next church, and then told me to email him and he’d see where/when one of these churches was serving food. A very nice guy.
No one was at the church he dropped me off at, so I went to the next one. To get there, I had to travel down a lane that looked like this.
Already I had a good feeling about.
The pastor wasn’t there, but the person in the office – Barbara – gave me some macaroons and some water. I sat outside and waited for the pastor to return. It got cold, so Barbara told me to come inside. She gave me some hot chocolate and cookies and let me sit on the couch. I played “Sweet Hour of Prayer” on the piano that was nearby. It was getting near 5 pm now, and Barbara needed to close the office. She said the pastor would call me. I gave her my number to text him. Then she and I talked about writing – she said she wanted to start doing it – and I gave her what few tips I’ve accumulated so far.
I waited under the awning of another church as it began to rain. I chewed on a piece of dried fruit. “If I ever have a hamburger again,” I said to myself, “It’s going to taste so good.”
I was mentally preparing myself for a long night outside, when I got a call from the pastor. I told him about my pilgrimage and he invited me back to the church. I came back, met him, and we talked in his office for a good while. We were later joined by one of the members of the choir, and the three of us continued talking. Really great conversation – just what I needed. The choir member took me out for – yep, you guessed it – a hamburger.
Delicious. It kinda upset my stomach afterwards, but was totally worth it.
I told the pastor that if I could just set up my tarp outside the church, that’d be great, but he took it a step further. He invited me to stay at his home. I got to clean myself and my clothes (we both needed it), and sleep on a couch! The pastor’s partner commented that my mask was beautiful.
“It’s yours if you want it,” I said.
They said they would certainly keep it for me if I was tired of lugging it around, and that if I wanted it back, to just email them and they’d mail it to me. I don’t think I’ll be doing that, but then again, I never thought I’d be walking on another pilgrimage either.
I woke up this morning, refreshed and with a renewed faith in the gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God. The pastor gave me some money before we parted ways. I couldn’t stop thanking him. He hugged me and prayed over me. It was hard not to cry.
So here I am, back at the library, now headed for Marin City. I’m a little worried about shelter because it’s still raining outside, but God has come through for me in such a big way already. If I can just make it through today and tonight, the sun will come out tomorrow.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25: 34-40)