It's been nearly a month since I posted here, and that long since I've been to the Day Center. Three weeks ago today, I was rolling downhill on a beautiful morning, following a road my wife and I regularly cycle, when I hit a bad spot in the pavement, lost control of the bike and slammed into a telephone pole with my chest at about 20 mph.
The entire sequence unfolded in less time than it took you to read that last sentence, yet there was enough time for me to pick a spot to hit that did not involve my head.
The bike survived, wedged off the ground between the pole and a stock fence post with the handle bars crunched around an electrical enclosure. I was very fortunate, but still spent eight days in the hospital. I should heal entirely but am typing this one-handed and still have to watch a thigh wound about the size of a pulp fiction paperback.
Enjoying life and feeling lucky to still have it can do that to you.
Just a few days before the accident, I attended an appreciation dinner for the hundreds of people who volunteer for Catholic Outreach programs serving the poor and homeless in the community. I sat with a friend who is on the Board and invited one of the homeless men who was there that night directing traffic (and who by day volunteers at the soup kitchen) to join our table.
His name is Mark. I invited him because I like him, because he looked a bit lost among the other volunteers, and because I thought my friend should hear his story. I mentioned him briefly in this post.
He was one of the people living on The Point whose tent was damaged by police. Later, he was one of the few residents who showed up for the general clean up of the river encampment, and he did a good job speaking with TV reporters who covered the story.
At the time I wrote the post, he was talking about moving out of the shelter where he was living and back onto the river. But when I saw him last month, he was still at the shelter doing volunteer chores in the morning and then coming to put in more volunteer hours at the soup kitchen. At the dinner, he'd cleaned up nicely, and except for his pony tail and the tattoos running down to his wrists, he would have blended into the crowd of us other do-gooders.
I didn't want to put him on the spot with my friend and another Board member at the table, but I wanted them at least to know they were sitting across from a guy whose life was getting on track.
Mark's name showed up this morning morning in the "Friends and Family" section of the newspaper:
A Grand Junction man, Mark Hirschberg, 55, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of assaulting another man repeatedly with an ax at Whitman Park, 402 Pitkin Ave., according to the Grand Junction Police Department.
The victim, a 33-year-old man, was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital with serious injuries, but his wounds are not deemed to be life threatening, police said.
Hirschberg was arrested after fleeing the area on a bicycle and swimming across the Colorado River to an island near Riverside. Mesa County Sheriff’s Department deputies and the department’s river boat assisted in the search.
Hirschberg was booked into Mesa County Jail on suspicion of first-degree assault and felony menacing.
Whitman Park is a block from the Day Center. It's where our guests and other homeless hang out, panhandle, share bottles, play hacky sack, deal drugs or get served lunch some days by churches that minister to the homeless. They also get into disputes, although so far, I know nothing about the assault or the man who was attacked. I hope to get downtown yet this week and find out more.
I do know this. A man doesn't typically ride around on his bicycle with an ax.
This detour in Mark's success story saddens but doesn't surprise me, just as the little water main cover that threw me off the road was actually familiar. I'd hit it several times before and then forgiven the jolt it gave me because I was still upright and heading on my way.
Working with the homeless, we see these reversals and know the risks that others will occur.
My poster boy acts out like an ax murderer.
The guy who told me he'd learned his lesson after his dogs were taken away gets another dog, and it bites one of our guests in the alley.
The brother who was ready to donate a kidney tries to steal a kid's car.
If you've read this blog for a while, you know how these stories sometimes go.
Some people will fall into homelessness, find their way out and never come back. We can feel good about those cases. But others will keep sliding back or bounce from shelter to riverbank to detox to jail and start around again. To someone on the sidelines reading the Blotter or seeing the same faces on the street every day, our work might seem like futility.
But we must help everyone who shows up at our door. How can we hand out hope if we don't have any? How can we ration our compassion without knowing who truly needs it? How can we pick the upright when any one of us can fall?