Was chatting this week with a guy we’ll call Brian. Would be unhelpful to him to use his real name. Finished his education before high school to work on the family farm, which was repossessed by creditors in bad times. Ended up on the streets of Sydney. Then was sentenced to 11 years behind bars. Now in transition housing, but with little education and the stigma of being an ex-con, the future is not looking easy.
I sensed that he was glad to talk with someone who’d treat him with respect as a fellow creature made and loved by God. I don’t think he would ever have expressed it with words like that, but his eyes did the talking. We enjoyed a game of table tennis on his home turf. He’s very good with the paddle. But his home turf is tough soil – a path, or rocky, or at the very least full of thorns, I thought. Substance abuse, tight security precautions, and police visits are daily routines.
A fellow resident, Dean, was loitering around the table tennis table coming down off ice and starting to get pretty loud and confrontational. His language was colourful the way the ocean is moist. The very good staff did a great job of looking after him, as they do every day. A calmer fellow called Rob had a game of table tennis as well but wasn’t too keen on playing for long – “It brings back memories.” For me the game brings back wonderful memories of winning a doubles competition with my dad when I was 10, and of watching my son at the other end of the table over many years grow too good for me to beat him any longer. But Rob learnt table tennis, very well, in prison – “you’ve got lots of time on your hands”.
“If there were one thing you could change about your life, what would it be?” I asked Brian. “That sentence.” Just two words, but coming from a deep place, and without hesitation. I guess he’d spent at least 11 years thinking about the question. But my intent had been to ask about his future, what role I might play in making it brighter, perhaps. So I clarified – “What about the future?” “I’d like not to lose my temper. That’s what got me the sentence.”
Sounded like a statement of genuine remorse, even repentance. Deeper sorrow and more genuine desire to change than any time I’ve said sorry. I walked away from the table thinking Brian was possibly in a better place than I am with God. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.