I met Ryan at Lunch in the Park. Ryan can only see out of his right eye; I’m not sure what happened to his left eye, but it seems to be permanently pointed inward with a light blue glaze over it. He had messy hair, missing teeth, dirty hands, no shoes, one good eye, and yet, when he looked at me, he looked at me with love and compassion.
We had only a short conversation, but in that time he told me a few things I thought curious, and a little humorous. I had asked him how long he had been in Denver, and he said nearly all his life. He mentioned being born in Aurora, and having spent 18 years in prison. He told me never to go there, and I said I would do my best. I chuckled, but he looked at me seriously and said, “You won’t. I can tell. You’re a good person.” I thanked him, and said it was very kind.
He asked if I was twenty-two, and I said yes, a little surprised at his accuracy. He mentioned that sometimes he can know things and doesn’t understand why. He assumes it’s the Holy Spirit giving him insights. He asked about my plans, and I shared my desires to study theology and philosophy, and to be a counselor. Ryan was nothing but encouraging. He assured me that I would be good at those things, and that God will use all of them for His plans. He told me, “You love people a lot. And that is what it’s all about.”
He proceeded to explain the Corporal Works of Mercy to me without using the term. I was so taken aback and inspired by his words. Standing before me is a person who has very little to his name, clearly has been through so much, and yet all he wants to talk about is loving others.
He wasn’t lamenting on bitterness with the world and with people, the ways he’s been wronged, how unfair things are, how sad and twisted life can be. While he surely had room to complain about such things, it was of no interest to him.
We talked about what it really means to love the other, how he tries to help out whenever and wherever he can, and how when people steal all of his stuff, he “just hopes they need it more” than him.
After a few minutes, I eventually asked him, “Ryan, why do you try so hard to love other people?” Without any hesitation, he looked me in the eye and said, “Because Jesus died on the cross.”
How often do I spend complaining about the smallest things, feeling indignant when I’m wronged, feeling sad because of how messed up the world can be, and blaming others rather taking responsibility? Probably more than I’d like to admit. Jesus died on the cross. He showed us the greatest love there is. What’s holding me back from imitating Christ and trying to love others as Ryan does?
Before I left, I unlaced my boots, laid them down next to him—well aware of my attachment and the severity of his need—and told him not to tell anyone. This is not me doing something heroic. Catholic Social Teaching shows that in this situation, those boots are truly his anyway.
I thanked him for his example and the way he loves others. He looked at me first with surprise, and then, with a huge grin, shouted, “You’re doing it! This is exactly what we were talking about!” Ryan gave me a big hug, and excitedly told me how these boots are special because they came from me. It was a beautiful moment.
Everytime I go for a hike, I hope I think of Ryan and offer up prayers for him.
Lord, help me to love like Ryan.
[Names have been changed in this story to respect the privacy of our friends on the street.]
Daniel is a first-year missionary with Christ in the City. When not reading books on theology at coffee shops, he enjoys playing guitar and piano (not at the same time), running, and performing stand-up comedy.