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Cold and Homeless with an Attitude of Gratitude

There’s a man I know, a friend of mine, named “Billy”.  Billy is older (about 70), and I’ve known him for about 5 years.  I speak with him every week or two, but I don’t see him much as he lives a couple hours away.  Billy is a bit different than most of my friends.  First, he is about 30 years older than me, but most importantly- Billy is typically homeless and often hungry and cold.

He lives in various closed-up and abandoned houses, mostly with no electricity (or heat).  It’s December now and last night I’m sure he slept in a cold house that was little warmer than the 18 degrees outside.  He usually eats 1 (meager) meal per day, and sometimes when I’ve talked with him he has gone 3-4 days without food.

But, it doesn’t really bother him.

Billy has lived the kind of tragic life that could be the subject of a somber and dramatic movie:

  • Many years ago he was married.  But one night his young bride and infant son were killed in a road accident, by a drunk driver.
  • He had bone cancer in one of his arms, and to this day in one of his arms he has no bone at all in his forearm.  No rods.  Its all just flesh and muscle and tissue.
  • He has no family at all, except an estranged brother who lives halfway around the world that he has not seen in 20 years.
  • He has spent better than half his life bouncing between abandoned houses, homeless shelters, the streets, and under bridges.
  • He once owned and operated a successful mechanical business, but his plant caught fire during a lapse in his insurance, and he lost EVERYTHING (over $1 million), and suddenly had no money, no income, no assets, and no purpose.

Safe to say that Billy has led a life that should lead him straight to despair and self-pity.  Truth be told, he did spend a couple of decades struggling with alcohol, but he has been sober for over 10 years now.  When I speak with him, he is grateful for the air he breaths, for the beautiful nature of northern New England, for the few acquaintances that he has, and for the little things in life.  He is not a regular Church-goer, but he does certainly believe in God and he tells me that when he gets frustrated or down he looks up to the sky and prays.  He asks God for a little help, now and then.

Once in a while I try to help him, by giving him a few bucks or a pair of shoes, etc.  But he hardly ever asks for anything, and when he does accept anything from me or anyone else he feels guilty and a bit ashamed.

But it is I that feel ashamed when I call him and complain that I had a rough day at the office, or I spent all Saturday mowing the lawn or something like that.  I realize I am telling this to a man that has been through all that he has, and that doesn’t own 4 pairs of socks.

Most of us (in the United States) truly do have so much- yet we do not realize it.  Getting to know Billy has opened my eyes.  I can clearly see and appreciate that my life and its circumstances are quite good.  I believe it would be a great thing if everyone personally knew someone like Billy.  In many ways Billy does “need” our friendship, but perhaps I’m the one that needs it most of all.



About Ken

Ken Lambert, D.Min, lives with his wife and twin boys in southern New Hampshire, and has written for a variety of religious and secular publications. He is co-author of Top Ten Most Influential Christians- since the Apostles, and is an adjunct instructor for Agape Seminary (Church History, Wisdom Books).

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  1. Very well written, honest post! Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a touching story. Billy sounds like an interesting man.
    One could say my family has had its share of tragedy. Its interesting, however, that when I hear the tragic stories of others I think to myself, ‘I could never handle that. How do they find the strength to go on?’ (While others can be thinking the same about us.) God alone knows how much each of us can withstand- whether we choose to do it with His help or not.
    On the other hand, we also need to try not to ‘condemn’ ourselves or others for grumbling about a hard day at work or a disagreement within a relationship. Though perhaps these things don’t rise to the level of ‘tragedy,’ they are real and valid stresses of everyday life.
    A ‘woe is me, my life is terrible’ attitude is unhealthy and unproductive. However, listening to the frustrations of others and sharing our own (absent a pity party) is a healthy way to support each other through the trials of life.
    It teaches us to be encouragers. And sometimes it opens our own eyes to the fact that our ‘troubles’ aren’t really as bad as they seem us.

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