man on the stairs


I’m feeling grumpy this morning. But I want to take care to be appropriate in describing why. Last night when Eileen and I arrived at church for choir rehearsal, the parking lot was unusually full. As we headed for the sanctuary where I had prepped the evening rehearsal by setting up chairs, a wipe board on a stand, and the order for rehearsal written on a large sheet of paper on another stand, we passed a man on the stairs.

He was stooped. Probably middle aged or a bit younger. Black dude with a back pack. I looked at him. I asked him if everything was okay. He said no. Then he said he wanted to pray with us. I said actually we were having choir rehearsal. Eileen and I continued heading up the stairs.

Well, this guy seemed to be a problem for several of my choir members. The first I heard of it was when someone mentioned that a missing member was “helping him.” I think that’s what they said. A bit later, a different member showed up who had signed out and said nothing. Then another member showed up late and started singing too loud and sort of freaked out when I asked for better choral balance. By this time everyone was there.

After rehearsal, I attempted to apologize for being a bit curt with the choir member who had taken my general admonition to balance personally. That was when I began to find out that several members had confronted the man on the stairs. They said he quickly become belligerent and began swearing when they suggested he check out the local mission. And that he was drunk. Finally I guess one of them called the police.

In the course of this conversation more than one of them said that it was obvious that he was someplace where he didn’t belong.

I told them that what they should have done is come and get me. I told them that as a staff person I wanted them to feel safe and a situation like this was more my responsibility than theirs.

I’m not sure how I would have handled this dude. One never knows. My tendency is to normalize situations. I angered a choir member when I talked about having to deal with a “midnight cowboy” in downtown Detroit. She didn’t let me finish my story. Too bad. When he showed up in a choir rehearsal room on Sunday morning at First Pres, I put him in the tenor section.

I’m not saying that’s what I would have done with the guy last night. Most likely I would have ignored him and made sure he understood that we didn’t have money for him (if that’s what he wanted) and had a rehearsal we had to do. I hope I wouldn’t have called the police unless he physically threatened someone.

My choir members were angry and anxious. They pointed out that this was the second time a stranger (drunk) had shown up on Wednesday night around rehearsal time. Two weeks ago we had a guy looking for Feeding America who didn’t speak English. A Spanish speaking choir member talked to him.

I feel like the dude last night isn’t the only one who might not belong in the situation. Once again I’m feeling like I don’t belong.

This morning on the radio i heard someone talking about identifying each other as “one of them” or “one of us.” It’s hard not suspect my upset choir members saw our visitor as “one of them.” They described him as “homeless.” I wonder why.  I picture several elderly educated white people gathered around him and shudder. No one seemed to have learned his name or anything about him. Maybe they did. Mostly it just leaves me grumpy and wondering why I do this for a living even though I know that I am a lucky guy. Lucky to have a place to sleep and food to eat. Lucky to belong, I guess.

1 thought on “man on the stairs

  1. While I’m normally a helpful person, I do find I have a short fuse for those that disrupt others, while they are in their own world/illness/whatever. It’s an odd sensation for me. I want to help & typically do things for others on a regular basis. However, when it comes to folks that are overly abrasive in a place that they probably shouldn’t be, I turn quite cold, and instantly. I’ve struggled internally the past decade with the issue of what to do with our mentally ill/unstable folks. Many homeless/drunk/drugged folks have underlying issues- and the resources for them & their issues are way too few. It’s difficult that there isn’t a better answer readily available.

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