I have come to understand that nearly every person who walks through the doors of NourishMKE is walking a razor’s edge between barely making it and economic disaster. That is the mountaintop we walk daily, the familiar landscape. You can see stress in the eyes and faces of almost everyone who wanders up to get a number for food. 

One man in particular catches my eye. He has the faraway stare of someone whose mind is quite literally far away, in a different place, in a different time. It’s the thousand-yard stare, the sign of trauma, a long-term effect of an experience that has overwhelmed a person’s coping mechanisms. He could probably have still heard the odd ringing in his ears. 

I know this man well. I’ve known him many years. I was careful in approaching him to not startle him. He slowly looked over towards me. Not startled, still far away, but also here. “Tell me what’s going on. You look troubled, my friend.”

A single tear welled up and rolled down his cheek. His eyes went to that far away place and back again. Still looking far away, he said, “I didn’t know where else to go, so I came here. They killed my son last night.” His eyes went far away again.

If you’ve ever seen someone carrying more than they can bear, you know what I mean when I talk about quivering lips and shaking hands, even a whole body shaking as though it’s all about to just come apart, nothing left strong enough to hold it all together. His son had been gunned down by some other angry young man in an ocean of angry young men. He offered no details. None were asked.

Grief is the luxury of people who know they are safe. This man has never in his life known safety. He has moved from trauma to trauma looking for the next threat he had to deal with. Evil hunts most voraciously among people who are on the margins. For a brief hour or two today, he was safe enough to let it hurt. We have to let it hurt in order to let it heal, if wounds like this ever do heal. 

Yes, this is a food pantry. We absolutely provide healthy food to hungry people. But I tell this story in this season because this place and these people are so much more than a food pantry. Together we are becoming a place of peace. 

As this grieving man left through the back door with a single bag of food he hadn’t really come for and probably wouldn’t have the appetite to eat, I couldn’t help but turn aside to see this man, like that burning bush, his soul was clearly on fire with grief…and yet…at least as of that moment…he was not consumed. I have no way to explain that. The story we live in is the story we live out.

This is our community. The bush burns, but it is not consumed.

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