I have a pair of fur-lined black leather gloves. I bought them from an Army surplus store about fifteen years ago. They were very used by the time I got a hold of them. One finger and thumb had obviously been repaired with needle and thread. Over the course of wearing the gloves for so many years, the repairs have fallen apart. The right glove is in bad shape. It’s less a glove now than a fur-lined tunnel for cold air.
Once the glove became nearly useless, I decided I would take it to a cobbler who worked nearby and ask him to repair the glove. He had been working out of a local strip center space for as long as I could remember. I figured he would be well-equipped to repair a seam in a leather glove. All I had to do was drive two whole minutes from my apartment to his shop. For three years I periodically reminded myself of this very simple opportunity to get my glove fixed. Three years of procrastination ended when the cobbler closed his shop last summer. My glove is still a sieve for cold air.
A good friend of mine bought me a pair of gloves for my birthday or something, in 2012. I’ve worn them during the past two winters. The gloves have “Prov 17:17” stenciled on them, or whatever you call that process. Being as I’m an astute Bible scholar, I recognize that the monogram is referring to Proverbs 17:17. I have no idea what Proverbs 17:17 says. I’ve worn the gloves for two winters, wondering what Proverbs 17:17 says.
Last winter, someone left a really nice leather glove on the coat rack at our office. It sat there all the rest of the winter, into spring, and throughout the summer. I asked the receptionist if she had any idea whose glove it was. She said no. I took the glove home and put it in my winter gear bag, along with the frayed Army surplus gloves and my Proverbs gloves. I figured it was too nice a glove to just sit and do nothing. At the office. So I put it in the bag to do nothing at my place instead of at the office.
Two weekends back, I went to play at a prayer service on Saturday morning. It was a chaotic morning, what with me playing for the first time there, taking my kids with me, moving our coats and things around the room a couple of times. Two days later I realized my Proverbs gloves were nowhere to be found. I figured there was a decent chance I’d left them at the church. I texted The Guy Who Suggested I Start a Blog and asked him to look around for them. He said he would. The next morning I found the gloves in my office. The weekend had been so crazy that I hadn’t noticed I never even had the gloves with me. I was extremely pleased to have the Proverbs gloves back in action. I still didn’t know what Proverbs 17:17 says.
On my walk to work one day last week, I found a TV box resting in an alcove next to a bridge. The box was next to a wall, over which was a drop down to the major thoroughfare below. I paid attention to the box because, in all the times I’d passed that spot over the years, I’d never seen any large trash there. The property owners are meticulous about clearing trash and graffiti.
On that same day, as looked out the window by the water cooler in my office, I saw a transient looking fellow staggering around in the apartments across the street. I didn’t recall having seen him before. I saw him again when I left my building and began my walk home. He was standing still in nearly the same spot I’d seen him earlier, staring into the parking lot of my building. I intentionally didn’t look in his direction, so as not to encourage any interaction.
Back at the bridge, the television box was still there. I didn’t give it any more thought, and I didn’t walk to work the last two days of the week. When I’m in my car, I can’t see the ground where the box was, so I didn’t see whether it was there or not, and it never occurred to me to check, anyway. It was just a piece of trash, after all.
Today, I walked to work in gusty cold wind. The wind chill was definitely in the teens, at most. For some reason, as I neared my office, I enjoyed a moment of satisfaction that I had my Proverbs gloves on and that they were keeping me warm. Immediately, I felt a tug in my spirit (I guess). “Would you give them up?” What? Why would I do that? It’s freaking cold out here. I looked ahead and could see no one for blocks, so I was comfortable that I wasn’t going have to give up my Proverbs gloves. Before I had time to contemplate how weird that particular 1.5 seconds of life had been, I looked down over a rail near a bridge and saw a human-sized cocoon of blankets, the TV box from last week, and a five-gallon bucket with some stuff in it.
It took me a few seconds to realize what I was looking at. There was evidently a person laying on the ground, covered up in blankets, using the box as wind break. “No way.” I’d walked that same route off and on for years, in all kinds of weather. I’d never seen anyone sleeping on the streets, in all that time. It’s definitely the kind of neighborhood where you might expect to find a body on the ground, living or dead. But I’d never seen one. Much less in such cold weather and right after having been challenged about cold weather gear and commitment to ownership of same.
I stared at the blob of blanket and knew that somewhere inside was a person who was probably colder than I. I knew that if I asked at all, the person would probably want me to give him or her my gloves. I decided the person was obviously sleeping, or else he or she would be up and about, since it was almost 9am. If only he or she had been awake, I might have have offered him or her my gloves. But he or she was asleep. I was very quiet about walking away. I didn’t want to wake him or her up.
I made it about fifteen feet. I looked back at the makeshift shelter. The whole thing was so absurd. “Seriously, God? I just found these gloves again (well, a week ago, anyway), and now you’re putting me in this situation?” Of course He was. SIGH. I walked back to the railing. I peered down again at the scene. There was a run-of-the-mill ‘homeless – help – God bless” sign stuck down in the bucket. I could see a denim-clad human bottom sticking out from underneath the blanket. I realized that I was right smack in the middle of my walk with God. I wasn’t cooperative. THEY’RE MY PROVERBS 17:17 GLOVES, DAMMIT. AND IT DIDN’T MATTER THAT I HAD NO IDEA WHAT PROVERBS 17:17 SAYS OR THAT I WAS MASSACRING VERB TENSES ALL OVER THE PLACE.
I watched the blanket to see if it was moving, if the person was breathing. I lamely figured that if he (it was a guy, surely) had died of exposure, I wouldn’t have to give him my gloves. I thought I saw some movement from breathing. It seems these days that faith is oftentimes about doing something crazy at the most inopportune time. “Hey, man!” I shouted at the giant roll. Nothing. “Hey!” No movement. “Hey! Wake up!” Nothing. More shouting. A man stuck his head out of the roll of blankets. I immediately thought him to be the man I’d seen a couple of times last week. I asked, “Do you need some gloves?” “Yeah,” he replied, eagerly. “Lemme see your hands,” I required. The Proverbs 17:17 gloves wouldn’t go without just cause. He pulled his hands out. His right hand had a black leather glove on it. His left hand was bare. I took off my left glove and threw it to him. “Here ya go.”
He took the glove. “OK, I’ma go back to sleep now (something else unintelligible, maybe ‘God bless.”). I headed off into the last couple of hundred yards of my walk to work. My left hand was freezing. I was aggravated at the cold. At the same time I was pretty shocked at how quickly God can just pop up out of nowhere and ask you to give away a glove on a frigid day. Did that really just happen?
Minutes later, at my office desk, I sat down at the computer and did a web search for ‘proverbs 17:17’. According to pretty much every version and translation, the verse is:
A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.
My eyes watered.
During the entire day at my office, most of my mind was stuck back out on the street at just before 9am this morning. When God shows up that powerfully and surprisingly, I tend to stay rattled for a while. I wondered about the man in the blanket and whether we’d ever meet again.
I left work this evening and traversed the same path back to my apartment. I kept my bare left hand clutched into a fist, down in my jacket pocket. When I got to the bridge rail, there was no sign of the man, his blankets, or his box and bucket. Like this morning had never happened. Surreal.
I continued on my way. About fifty feet past the bridge I spied a piece of black fabric on the ground. As walked up and stood over it, I saw that it was black glove. I bent down and picked it up. It was left-hand glove. I laughed. The glove was a work glove and not a “warm” glove. I tried it on and found it was a perfect fit. The fabric didn’t keep the wind and cold out nearly as well as the Proverbs glove; but the found glove was a decent stand-in for a walk home.
Back at my apartment, I surveyed my bizarre glove collection. I had the one right-hand Proverbs glove and one good left-hand leather Army surplus glove. That was a decent pair for regular cold weather use. The glove from the hat rack was extremely tight and not good for anything other than walking to and from work. My right-hand leather glove still needs repair; but it will be fine when it fixed. The found work glove will be just another work glove.
I’m currently tempted to carry the hat rack glove around, in case I come across someone else who needs one or more gloves. More generally, I plan to spend some time walking around with some mismatched gloves, until the weather warms. I think that obvious imperfection will provide me plenty opportunity to reflect on God in ways that I might not have before today.
Without that curious challenge to give up my gloves, immediately before finding the man on the ground, I don’t know that I’d have given his condition much thought. I think I would have seen the quilted croissant bed thing and just kept going. “Homeless people sleep under blankets, under boxes, next to bridges. It’s what they do.” Instead, I had just been prompted to consider giving away my gloves. And I couldn’t walk away from the scene.