One more story from my trip to Baltimore. As our plane banked to make its final approach, I looked out my window seat across the city. I was reminded of my last trip to Baltimore nearly 8 years ago. As hard as you might find this story to believe, it is 100% true. I have a picture to prove it. It further illustrated the power of what Erwin McManus calls “Divine Moments” in the book “Chasing Daylight”.
As I said, a business trip brought me out to Rockville Maryland several years ago. It was during a bit of downtime that my boss asked me if I wanted to go grab some lunch. We were in one of those shopping strip malls, so there were a few choices out in the parking lot. We walked right passed a “Don Pablos” and headed into a burger joint next door of which I cannot remember the name. Just as we were walking in the door, Shelly said “You know, I think I want some chips and salsa instead.” She was buying so I could hardly complain. We made our way over to Don Pablos.
This is where it gets interesting.
I grew up in a little town called Bedford south of Cleveland, Ohio. In case you were wondering, it’s nowhere near Rockville, Maryland. As we stood waiting for our seats, a busboy walked by and immediately we locked eyes. A quick run through my mental photo album found me staring at a guy that was “Everyone’s All-American” in high school. That’s right. I was staring directly at a guy from my hometown. He was thin, burned out, and now cleaning tables at Don Pablos…in MARYLAND! I still get chills when I think of that moment. My chances of winning the lottery are probably better than that moment ever happening again.
Within moments, Shawn dropped his bus pan. Cups and plates shattered. He was now giving me the kind of hug you give a family member you haven’t seen in years. To hear Shawn talk later, I think he actually felt that way. We exchanged numbers and later that evening I picked him up at his sister’s house where he was now living in the basement. I took him out for a good meal and listened for hours as he told me stories of drug addiction, wasted years, homelessness, and shelters he had been in and out of. After dinner he had me drive over to the local high school parking lot. We sat on the hood of my rental car as he re-lived our high school memories. It was almost as if that was all he had left to hold on to. I will never forget staring into eyes that told a story of so much potential thrown away. Yet I saw a glimpse of a guy just trying to get his life back together. I’ll never forget it.
We met up again the next day before I left town. I gave him the 800 number for my pager which had voice mail on it. For the next several months, Shawn would leave me messages to update me on where he was and what his plans were. He decided to move to a homeless shelter in Miami. They would give him 90 days of housing and the first month’s rent somewhere if he would stay clean. They also would help him land a job.
He paged me 911 from the bus stop and told me a story of his ticket getting stolen by some kids. I drove to a downtown Cleveland bus station in the wee hours of the morning to wire him a ticket to Miami. My last contact with Shawn came in a letter from the shelter where he had secured a job at a grocery store and was ending his time at the shelter. I later left that job, and the 800 number pager and never heard from him again.
As my plane touched down in Baltimore Wednesday, I couldn’t help but think of that divine moment. When a decision for chips and salsa forever changed my life. I wonder sometimes if maybe, it forever changed Shawn’s too. I don’t know where he is in this world. I pray God’s grace and mercy are still upon him. I keep the picture of the 2 of us outside that Don Pablos in my desk and often stumble across it. When I do, I pray that one day I will meet Shawn again in heaven where there are no more demons, addictions, and memories of wasted opportunities. Only wonderful stories of divine moments and maybe some “chips and salsa” for old time’s sake.