journeys

That Time I Thanked a Homeless Preacher

It was a long walk from 14th Street to Port Authority—about two miles. But it was a pleasant evening, and the walk sure beat spending money on the subway. Besides, I had some things to discuss with God. And long walks are ideal prayer time.

I’d just started thinking of conversion. A new world was opening up to me; the walls of fear and hesitation were breaking down. So that night, God and I talked. I walked the twilit Manhattan streets automatically, paying more mind to my silent prayers than my steps. I don’t know if this is right, I’d told Him. It’s such a big change. One doesn’t go from a non-denominational upbringing to a religion steeped in tradition so easily. Or at all? I wasn’t sure.

Please give me something to say I’m going in the right direction, I silently pleaded, not normally one to plead for anything, silently or otherwise.

I turned the corner onto 8th Avenue, and there was a man bellowing Bible verses on the sidewalk.

He looked normal enough, not like the scraggly-bearded homeless men with apocalypse signs. His voice was crisp, like an actual preacher. I became conscious of my walking again, only because I’d nearly lurched onto the sidewalk. When I stepped up to him, he hesitated in his reading. I spoke before he could start up again.

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ve been walking and talking to God, looking for answers.”
He was speechless at first—had anyone ever talked to him?—but then, he smiled. “Thank you.” He pointed toward the sky. “The answers aren’t down here. They’re up there.”

I can’t remember if he resumed his reading after. Maybe he just watched me leave. Maybe he, too, had been searching for answers. My steps quickened. My vision blurred, the crazy woman laughing and weeping outside Penn Station. I guess this is it, I said, grasping the cross I wore around my neck. To say “Thank You” wasn’t adequate. I had to get home. I had to share it. And I had to start.