I met Dwayne at CVS. I say, “I met…” because Dwayne did not want to meet me. But he did. Reluctantly. I asked him why and he simply mumbled, “I don’t like talking to people.”
I would come to find out that wasn’t exactly true. Dwayne is cautious and doesn’t like answering questions because “I don’t know you. You might be a cop.”
Judging by his enormous size and the strength of his handshake, I suspect Dwayne was once a professional football player or a big ass threat to people like me. His raspy voice, and the long white chin hair that stuck out against his dark weathered skin, gave him the look of an old jazz musician. He could have been either of those things. He only told me that was a husband and a grandfather whose grandkidsbreak into his cell phone and load it up with games.
Did I mention that the only reason Dwayne spoke to me was when I told him who I was and what I am actually attempting of doing by talking with him? Once he found out I was a minister (or not a cop, warrant officer, or someone serving him papers or repossessing his car) Dwayne wouldn’t stop talking. In fact, the only time he wasn’t talking to me was when a voice would come out of his cell phone to ask him a question. I had not realized that Dwayne was on hold with his doctor’s office trying to get his medicine refilled.
I would come to discover that he was a ‘soldier’ (ministry member) of the Salvation Army. It’s been a part of his life for most of his life. His good friend who he went into the program with has gone on to be a pastor. Apparently, Dwayne doesn’t have a problem talking with strangers or about his faith, which he apparently likes to do with me using some very color words. You know the kind of words people don’t often scream out loud at CVS...unless they are Cortney Love or have Tourette’s.
His dad used to say “You think you know who you are, but you don’t. You think you know where you been or what you can do, but you don’t. You don’t know nothing because you don’t know what’s next. The only way to find out who you are and what you can do is to get up every damn morning and see what God has planned for you.”
Even though he wasn't about to get up tomorrow morning and take up the whole meet 30 people in 30 day challenge Dwayned told me that he like the idea. He added, “You think you know your neighbors, but you don’t.” (Sounds like something his dad would say.)
What caught me off-guard about this statement was the story that followed. When Dwayne was in prison the guy in the cell next to his tried to kill him. For some reason there was a hit on him. “It was nothing more than the politics inside the system. You pick sides. He picked the other side.” After he was released, he actually moved on the same street as that guy. Not only did they become neighbors, but today they remain good friends who have one another’s back.
He's right, we think we know the people in our neighborhoods and communities. But we really don’t. That’s what makes this thing so rewarding. It’s a pain in my butt to go up to meet someone, especially on those days when I really don’t want to. But the only way to get to know a person or what their story is all about is to get up every damn morning and meet them. Some sage advice.
Despite my trepidations, I get up and meet the most unusual people I can find. But the real joy I find comes at the end when I shake someone’s hand and see the smile on their face as we say our good-byes. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better ending to a story.