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Story Homily: Christmas

Andrew Dawson walked along Beacon Street in Boston, on his way home after finishing his Christmas Shopping at Neiman-Marcus. He walked with that unique limp that made his head bob up and down differently than most people, so he was easy to pick out in a crowd. That was besides his six foot frame.

Suffolk County’s best high school pitcher in 1988, Andrew then was well on his way to be a Major League Baseball star and on the cusp to receive a sports scholarship to Bowdoin. Then, coming home from school one fateful May, he was set upon by a gang about a mile from his home. They beat him and when he fell he shattered his knee and his plans for a baseball career.

Thirty years later the agony of that moment was long forgotten along with the months of tears for the physical torment and the emotional anguish of permanently losing his baseball dream in that one hateful act.

Of course, today, at forty eight, Andrew long accepted his disappointment. The leg, mostly healed was now pain free except on cold, damp autumn and spring nights. He long ago stopped paying any attention to the limp.

As he continued along Beacon street on his way to his house not far from Symphony Hall, Andrew made a quick stop at a local shrine near the Berkeley College of Music and sat in silence before the tabernacle. He pulled out his smartphone muted it and laid it next to him on the hard wooden bench.

Suddenly, he felt something brush his thigh as he looked to his left to see a homeless man grabbed the phone and stood with it in his hand.

“Ha Ha! I have your phone. Twenty bucks.” He taunted Andrew, waving the phone in front of him with his left hand and holding out his right hand for the payment.

“Twenty bucks for what.” Andrew stood and turned toward the thief. He reached out to grab the phone.

The man pulled back. “Your phone, it is mine until I get my twenty bucks.”

“You stole my phone.”

“No I am just holding it for safe keeping.” He smiled that sinister looking smile of a thief who found another victim.

“Give me my phone.” Andrew demanded trying not to speak too loudly in the chapel.

“Sure, give me my twenty bucks.” He said and laughed some more. “or I keep your phone and all your photos and contacts and sim card.” He laughed and looked down at the screen trying to unlock it. “This is how I survive on the streets being homeless.”

Andrew looked at the top of the man’s head as a yellow and red jagged stripe crossed from the left rear of his head to the center.

“Twenty bucks,” the homeless man repeated as he looked back up.

“What happened to your head?” Andrew reached again for the phone as he changed the subject.

“Nothing, where’s my twenty bucks.” the homeless man dodged him again in a form of the game keep away.

“You want twenty bucks, you follow me.”

“I ain’t following you anywhere. Just give me my money. I will give you your phone.”

“You will never unlock my phone, the FBI cannot even unlock those things. You cannot sell it unlocked. I will give you twenty bucks if you come with me. Your choice.”

Andrew walked out of the shrine, leaving it up to the homeless man to follow him or not.

Arriving at his house, Andrew unlocked the front door to his brownstone and showed the man through the entrance. “James,” he said to the butler inside, “take this man to the empty apartment downstairs.”

“You can sure afford my twenty-bucks.” The homeless man stood stunned at the crystal chandelier with bright light shining through the surrounding prisms, the glass and wood doors to the upstairs and the fancy hardwood stairway leading downstairs. Then to James, dressed in the classic butler uniform with white gloves.

“Yes, Mr. Dawson.” He said and then looking to the homeless man. “Come with me, sir. ”

“James, show him the bathroom, give him soap and towel and give him my work clothes to change into. Then bring his own clothes to be washed downstairs.” Andrew called out as he started upstairs towards the kitchen.

“Yes, Mr. Dawson.” He unlocked the door to the downstairs apartment. “Your name sir?”

“LaBarrack O’Neill.” They vanished into the apartment.

“I thought you would be home by now, I’ve tried calling, is your phone even on?” Mary Dawson was checking the roast in the oven, when Andrew walked into the kitchen.

“It was stolen, I will remote erase it.” Andrew addressed, his wife of twenty-five years.

“Mark will be here in a minute.” She smiled. “I cooked a full roast with Potatoes Gratin Daphinois and an Asparagus Parmesan Quiche. It is the same recipe I presented on my Christmas show yesterday on public TV. The live audience loved it. “

“Smells delicious. Oh, I have someone downstairs I must attend to,” Andrew responded.

“I do not have a place setting for any more guests. I wish you told me.” She replaced the pan lid on some broccoli steaming on the stove.

“Dear it’s a homeless man in distress.”

She sighed in exasperation, crossed her arms across her chest, stood and look directly at him. “You know, we give plenty of money to agencies who are better at caring for the homeless than we are.”

“Well, he is here now. I don’t think he will be staying for dinner.”

They heard the door unlock as Mark Dawson entered the house and made his way to the kitchen.

“Merry Christmas,” He entered smiling.

Mary Dawson called out to him and gave him a big hug. “Merry Christmas, Mark!”

Andrew shook his son’s hand. “Can I put you to work already?”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Your father has a homeless man downstairs, he told me.”

“I just drove six hours after my shift at the emergency room and now I have to continue working?” Mark raised his left eyebrow.

“I thought you would agree.” Andrew said.

“That’s your father. It is not enough for him to go to Church, he has to bring it home with him. Here let me take your coat and your suitcase.” She said as she received the black wool winter coat into her hands, “I will give them to James.”

His father began to lead him to the downstairs apartment.

“Dad, this man has MRSA.” Mark looked over LaBarrack’s head. “He needs to go to a hospital, now.”

“I ain’t going to no hospital. They don’t do nothing for me.” Labarrack waved off the idea. He was clean and dressed in what Andrew considered old clothes of his, sitting on a desk chair in the apartment study.

“Sir.” Mark stooped down to look at LaBarrack in the eyes. “You have a serious infection. If it is not treated you could get either meningitis or sepsis either disease is deadly and I mean painfully deadly. You need to be in a hospital now.”

“They don’t do nothing for me.” He looked back to Mark and then to Andrew.

“Would I be right in saying you give them a hard time?” Mark said.

“Yah, because they don’t do nothing for me.”

“Maybe you are both at fault? But your body is fighting a battle it can’t win alone. How did this happen?”

“I got kicked in the head by some kid the other night when I was trying to sleep on a bench. I was cold, but warm enough with the blanket I had. He cut me and it has not healed.”

Mark stood up and took off his vinyl gloves. “Dad, he needs to be there now.”

“You want your twenty bucks?” Andrew smiled to calm LaBarrack down.

“Not no more, I just want to get out of here. I left your phone with the butler.”

“I will make a deal with you.” Andrew pulled out his wallet, took out a business card and placed it in LaBarrack’s hand. I want you to keep that card. If you stay the full week time in the hospital, you call me and we will get you a job that pays more than twenty bucks.”

“Where, here?” LaBarrack looked around the room and towards James.

“I own office buildings all over the Eastern seaboard. I have three here in Boston, two in Hartford, one in Albany, and more. I am sure we can find a place for you.”

LaBarrack looked down at the card, read the name and looked back into Andrew’s eyes. He then looked to the floor.

“Dad, I just called the EMT’s they will be here in thirty minutes to give him time to eat.” Mark said as he pulled his own phone from his ear.

“James, give him some of our Christmas dinner.” Andrew asked.

“Yes, Mr. Dawson.”

The EMT’s convinced LaBarrack to go to Boston Medical Center and took him out as he finished his roast, with Potatoes Gratin Daphinois and an Asparagus Parmesan Quiche that James plated for him from the kitchen.

Mary called her son and husband to the table. “You took a big chance bringing him into our house. You don’t even know him.” she started to bring the serving dishes to the table.

“Actually I do dear,” Andrew said as he poured the wine for dinner. “That is the gang leader who jumped me that night."

“He left you for dead, why did you do anything for him?” she was shaking her head.

“It’s Christmas Eve dear, isn’t that the meaning of Christmas? Jesus loved us to come to be born for us and to die for us, despite that we were still sinners. Should we not also work to love others just the same, especially if they are our worst enemies?”

“Let’s eat.” Mark said as he sat down. “Dad, I suppose you are going to say grace.”

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