'Angels deliver fate to our doorstep' -Jessi Lane Adams
Coincidence or a miracle? You decide...
My dad was the one you averted your eyes from.
He was the one who made you clutch your purse tight against your body, grasp your children's hands tighter.
He was the one you crossed the street to stay away from, the one you pretended didn't exist.
My dad endured stones being thrown at him, literally, simply for breathing the same air as the 'better' people.
My dad was homeless.
For my entire adult life, I had no idea where he was, if he was alive or dead, warm or cold...safe or in danger.
Four years ago yesterday, I was called to the hospital where I said my final goodbye, where I held his hand, told him I loved him, and felt him squeeze mine back, the slightest of pressure but SO real...he died the following day, the 23rd. Today.
I never truly moved on.
This year has been more than trying for me. While I'm much happier than I was last year, the struggles I've had to wade through have seemed catastrophic and impossible at times. In April, I lost my job after 12 years of dedicated service because of someone else's dishonesty. In July, I had to find a new place to live because I could no longer afford my apartment based on unemployment. I had nowhere to go but backwards, and I was determined to stay afloat unless living in a box was my only other option.
Then I met Christine. She is a bartender at the bar I 'frequent', but we'd never spoken on a personal level. She barely even knew my drink order. One night, Christine was at the same bar where I was with friends. Her own friends had just ditched her and she spent the night depressed and angry. Somehow, we started talking and I learned that she needed a roommate to keep up with her mortgage. I expressed my need for a room and by the end of the night, it was settled. I was set to move in as soon as my lease was up the next month.
We have lived together since, but never really got into the nitty gritty of our pasts. Then one night, we began to share. I opened up, told her about my father and how I had to grow up earlier than most.
Her first question was, 'He wasn't homeless around Joliet, was he?'.
Yes. He was. She asked his name, and when I told her(Frank), she didn't recognize it.
Then she told me about the homeless men who would come into the bar for free drinks most of the bartenders would hand out. How she never gave them free liquor, only free food.
She mentioned one man, a man the whole bar knew as 'the dirty hippie', and how she could sense something different, more trustworthy in him.
After a while, this man became her friend, a confidant. She drove him to the store, brought him food and blankets where she knew he was staying, allowed him to sit in her warm car on cold winter nights. She expressed how she longed to invite him into her home, give him a warm bed and a hot shower so that he wouldn't have to suffer in the cold, but couldn't because, after all, who knew who this man really was?
I was struck by my roommate's kindness. How many people would do this for a homeless person? Not many at all. I'd always wondered if my own father had been greeted with such compassion.
She told me that this man had saved her life one Christmas. She'd been in a dark place with her own family, her own father. And this man shared his story with her, the story of his family, of his daughters he'd left behind. He told her that fathers made mistakes, but she needed to understand that hers loved her, the same as he loved his own family. Then he hugged her and promised her that she mattered. She never saw him again.
Christine began describing this man...dirty, with longish graying hair, a chip in his front tooth...
"My dad had a chip in his front tooth," I interrupted, astonished. But really, this couldn't be that uncommon, right? Lots of people had chips in their teeth. Especially alcoholics who were prone to falling down and having accidents. It happened.
But just to see, Christine sent a text message to a former bartender, a guy who worked there at the same time. She asked who the homeless man they called the dirty hippie was, did he remember his name?
His reply came in one word: 'Frank'.
This homeless man who saved Christine's life, this man who lived across the street from the very place I was working, this man who was a mystery to me....he was my father.
Today, my dad's ashes are in an urn in my bedroom. I keep him with me because for the first time since his downhill turn, I know where he is. I never have to wonder again if he's cold or hungry or hurting. He is in my care and that is exactly where I've always needed him to be. With me.
My father's ashes are in Christine's house, exactly where she wanted him to be, in a warm home where she knew he was safe and taken care of. A stranger's compassion a surreal reality, four years later.
It's as if he's here right now, making sure I'm taken care of, helping me along this rocky path. I'm convinced he is the reason Christine and I met that night.
Everything happens for a reason...I was meant to meet Christine because she was the one person who showed my father that no matter what, he was important.
My father saved someone's life days before he lost his own.
Now he's saving mine.
I've never been a terribly religious person. I believe in God, I couldn't imagine making it through a day without some kind of Christian music flowing through my speakers in the car, and I pray often, but I don't attend church and I don't preach. I just believe.
But I can't imagine how anyone could not believe in SOMETHING besides coincidence after this.
There is no way that's what this is.
What else could it be?
This is, without a doubt, the greatest Christmas gift I have ever received. I now know that someone cared for my father, that someone gave him the kindness he needed...even if he wasn't father of the year. I'm now convinced he lived across the street from my work because it was the closest he could be to me. He was there and I never knew.
I owe so much to Christine. I only hope that she knows how much she really DOES matter.
Whether you believe in God and miracles, or nothing at all, I hope that this story helps you realize how important the people in your lives are. Never waste a day with them...tell them you love them.
And never EVER write a person off as worthless.
You never know when they might be an angel in disguise.
Merry Christmas to all of you.
And to my father, Frank Kuiken...you were always meant to be an angel. RIP.