Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) took to Facebook Wednesday evening to share a touching story about “a homeless guy and a feast.”
Sasse wrote that he met “Dave” during a visit to a homeless shelter this week. Dave said he is a former resident of the shelter and now works as its cook.
In a conversation with the senator, Dave shared some of the hardships he experienced in his life — how he started drinking around age 5 and started using marijuana at 8. Since he had little supervision in the house he lived in with some of his relatives, he quickly turned to harder drugs and crime. By the time he turned 13, he’d “had enough run-ins with the law” that, as part of his probation, he was banned from the state of Kansas.
Sasse wrote that Dave joked that “he was the youngest dude in the history of Kansas to be banned from entering the state.”
The senator wrote that “as he walked me through the steps of despair from there, it wasn’t surprising that he ended up homeless (for decades), or that he had some moments where suicide seemed like his only plausible way out.”
“But the story didn’t end in those moments,” Sasse continued:
He came into contact with some gritty souls at the shelter who didn’t just smell his stench and turn away; they looked into his eyes and told him they’d help — if he wanted it. He’d grown up around a bar, so he believed he could add some value in a kitchen. Fast forward: After three failures at in-patient rehab, volunteer labor eventually became a real job; broad-shouldered-intervention led to regular attendance at AA; and now he’s landed in an apartment paid for … by his own paychecks. He has his own place — and he has a place.
“He’s been beaten and humbled, but he’s a man,” Sasse wrote. “He referred to himself multiple times as ‘a drunk, a druggie, a liar, and a thief’ — but in saying this, he wasn’t cowering; he was owning it, as the kind of human who knows how to tell the truth. Importantly, he also called himself ‘a worker.’”
After Dave told him his story, Sasse asked him, “Next time I come back here, what’s the best thing I can do to add real value for you as you lead your kitchen? I don’t want mere busy work; I’d want to be tackling actual needs you have as the boss.”
Dave’s answer had a major impact on the senator:
I’d had tears in my eyes a bunch already this day, but here’s where they almost spilled out. Dave matter-of-factly announced, “Listen, you could obviously dish out meals. You could plate desserts. You could come early and open the vegetables. [There were crates of cans behind him.] You could help clean up.”
“But…when I look out the serving window at these guys, I see myself ten years ago. And you know what they actually need? They need humanity. They need touch. They need you to look them in the eyes and see them – not just look at them. They need you to want to be there.”
“When we’re homeless in this city, we’re pretty fortunate. We know you can almost always get food. That isn’t the real problem. People leaving restaurants with their left-overs will always throw calories at you. But 9 times out of 10 they also throw some spite at you. We know they think we’re worthless.” The ache in his voice showed the wound hadn’t fully healed ten years out.
“There is always food – but there’s never ‘a dinner,’” Dave said. Sasse wrote that by “distinguishing between mere food and an actual ‘dinner,’ he was explaining that there’s no ‘event’ to which the homeless guy is ever invited.”
The lawmaker then noted that Christians are in the midst of Holy Week, during which they remember the “last supper,” during which Christ washed the feet of his disciples.
“Jesus went to his knees to serve his disciples,” Sasse wrote. “To serve guys like Dave. It is, quite simply, the greatest inversion story in history”:
Then, this messiah — with a donkey as his ride and the gallows as his near destiny — invited them not merely to a refueling with calories, but to a breaking of bread … together. He called them to “a Feast.” He wanted to reconcile them to him, and to one another.
He wrote that “without even meaning to, Dave served me this week.”
“His ‘I’ve got food but I need a dinner’ explanation caused the larger story of this week to spring back to life. In talking about the Feast, he was talking about love. He was preaching to all of us.”
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