Remembering Benny: Coffee & Kindness
When asked who I work with I often reply, “the invisible”. You can imagine the looks I get. But they are here, in our midst - invisible. They are the people your mom told you not to stare at when you were a kid. It’s the person you intentionally avoid eye contact with in public or on the corner. It’s the person you cross the street to avoid. After enough time we condition ourselves to not even see them at all. They become invisible. Their lives and their situation are inconvenient to us and our rose-colored view of our community. Benny was such a person. Invisible.
I met Benny over 20 years ago. I will admit that he was grotesque to look at. It was hard not to gasp the first time I saw him. He had cancerous lesions growing on the outside of his face. The disease had eaten away one eye and the socket continually drained. Not only did Benny look bad, he smelled bad as well.
When I first met Benny, he never looked up to make eye contact. He would stare at the floor and only spoke when spoken to and then as little as possible. My heart went out to Benny. I could sense his loneliness and pain. He had been hurt and betrayed too many times to trust easily. I continued to reach out to Benny, to try to engage him in conversation and let him know that I cared about him. I would offer him a cup of coffee and donut when he came by my office and ever so slowly he began to open up and to look up.
After a while Benny started to come by my office almost every day for a cup of coffee and a donut. He became so comfortable with me and the office staff that he began flirting with the secretaries! “If I was a little bit younger I think I would ask you to marry me,” he would say to them. Benny became a regular and welcomed visitor.
One day Benny was standing at my office door looking in at me while I worked. Smiling he said, “Do you know why I come down here all the time?” I said, “For the donuts and coffee?” “Nope”, he replied. “To flirt with the ladies?” I asked. “Nope!” “I come down here because ya’ll have the faces of angels!” Can you imagine? Faces of angels!! That has stuck in my mind. To someone who was alone and alienated, the acceptance and love he found with us was life altering. All it had cost us was a little time and kindness but it was life altering, affirming warmth to someone who had been so long in the shadows.
As I got to know Benny better I learned that he had not always been like this – homeless, alcoholic, invisible. At one point in his life he had it all – a wife, children, a job, respect, and faith. But life took some unexpected turns. Unplanned, unforeseen, catastrophic turns. He had lost his wife and children and then he turned to alcohol. He said, “I know the Lord is not very proud of me. I haven’t lived like I was supposed to.” I told Benny that the Lord still loved him and that His grace was sufficient to forgive him. I told Benny that we loved him too.
Benny’s cancer continued to spread and his condition to worsen. We tried desperately to get him long term assistance for medical care and housing but failed at every turn. One hot summer day Benny slipped into a coma brought on by the cancer and dehydration. He died the next morning.
Because Benny was indigent, considered a pauper, he was buried the same afternoon. No funeral service, no preacher, no announcement - just a hole in the ground and dirt to cover it. I suppose that it was assumed that someone like Benny would have no one to mourn his passing, no one that would want to say a final good-bye. They were wrong! To this day I miss Benny. But this loss will not be felt forever. I know beyond doubt that one day I will see my friend again because the Savior he trusted years before has healed his body of disease and pain. I know that my friend is in the presence of God and His holy angels. You know why? Because Benny was never invisible to God!
Brown County Home Solutions was formed to address the needs of folks who are homeless like Benny in Brown County. Folks who want a new start and are willing to work toward that goal. Folks who are praying that someone will finally see them.
With the generous support of the Brown County community we can tackle the needs of those who for too long have been invisible to us. It will be uncomfortable. We will have to move outside our comfort zones to reach out to them but ignoring their presence is no longer an option.
Please consider supporting Brown County Home Solutions. We can make a difference. Let Benny’s story and his life move us to do more, to open our eyes, and our hearts. There are invisible folks in our community praying right now that someone will finally see them. Let it be you!
Donations for Brown County Home Solutions can be made online at www.bchstx.org or mailed to 1101 Avenue D, Brownwood, TX 76801.