Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

A Man Called “Misery”

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One week each year, during the month of November, we house in our church facility those people who do not have homes. During that time we feed, clothe and provide a clean, safe place for these persons to sleep. We provide haircuts and other services, and then transport many of them in our church van to their day jobs. Partnering with the Oakland County COTS agency and 51 other churches in the Detroit metropolitan community, working through the Missions Ministry of Hope United Methodist Church, we are always proud to welcome these individuals and give them our royal treatment.

One year, when I was working on this ministry, it had been a very, very long day and I was quite tired. In my weary state, I saw a man who looked very familiar to me. As I was walking toward him and extending my hand to shake his, he lifted his frail arm, leaned on his cane and then offered unto me his bone-thin hand and limply shook mine. Afraid of squeezing his hand too tightly, for fear of fracturing it, I shook it lightly, smiled and said, “My name is Pastor Stewart.”

“I know who you are but do you know who I am?” he asked, quizzically.

“What’s your name?” I asked, cheerfully.

He said, with his voice breaking and tears welling up in his eyes, “My name is ‘Misery,’ and I thank you for taking us in and feeding us this week. You have a mighty fine staff, and I am glad to be here.”

“Won’t you tell me your name again?” I asked.

“I just did,” he said. “Just call me ‘Misery.’ Misery is my name, and that’s all you need to know.”

I paused for a moment and offered him a chair at the dinner table so that he could sit with me.

“Tell me about yourself, Misery,” I said, as we sat down together.

“I was born in Detroit, Michigan and went to Cass Technical High School. I graduated with honors and went to Princeton on a scholarship. I graduated from Princeton and went to the University of Michigan where I graduated with a master’s degree. From there I worked various jobs at GM, IBM and EDS. I had a great career.”

He then told me even more about his life story and how he’d ended up in this situation. “Both of my parents died in a car accident when I was 25, and I am an only child. My parents had no brothers or sisters. When they died, they left me nothing. As sharecroppers in Alabama for many years they worked so very hard all their lives but had nothing to leave me. So, when I lost my job, I fell on bad times and have been homeless ever since.”

He then described his life on the streets. “I have walked the streets. I have lived in cardboard boxes in below freezing temperatures and have scavenged garbage cans for food. I have been arrested for loitering and repeatedly beat up by thugs on the streets. They knocked out my teeth, put a gash in my head which needed stitches and gave me a concussion. They chased me and beat me and I ran so far and long and got so tired that I collapsed on the streets only to wake up still on the streets with no one to lift me and no one to help me. I have worked odd jobs and could not keep them because I had no place to stay so I could not wash up. I went to work dirty and smelly, and so they fired me. At one point I was receiving food stamps from social services but then they took that away. I still have my dignity, but now I am an old man and very tired. I used to be happy and lucky and gainfully employed. I have worked hard all my life and ended up in this shelter.”

He then spoke of his inner, spiritual journey. “I still believe in God. They call me ‘Misery’ because I have suffered so much. They call me ‘Misery’ because after people hear my story they don’t want to be around me. They are shocked when I tell them that I am an Ivy League graduate. They stare at me in disbelief and ask what I did to get into this mess and misery. They ask what I did to bring this misery on myself. They ask how I could have blown such a great education and then they heap scorn and shame upon me because they say I should have known better to do better. I am ‘Misery’ because they have no pity on me. I am ‘Misery’ because they blame the victim by thinking that I am solely responsible for my condition when other factors contributed to it. I did not get this way on my own. A series of mishaps and misfortunes fell upon me and here I am. Were it not for the shelter I would be dead right now. So my name is ‘Misery,’ don’t you see?”

Struggling to focus, I said to him, “I don’t see the misery, I see a man; an accomplished man; a misunderstood man; a proud man who has fallen on hard times who can start all over again. With God all things are possible, Misery.”

“That’s just what I wanted you to say Pastor. Thank you for saying it and thank you for taking time to listen to me. You have reminded me that I am still a person; that God is still with me; that a child of God I still am; that life’s miseries do not define who I am or how others should see me. My name is Misery but underneath it all I still have hope. I am not Misery. Thank you so much,” he said. There was a gleam in his eyes, suggesting that he knew something I didn’t. “You will never know what you have done for me,” he added, before saying, “Please excuse me for a moment, I must use the rest room,” and rising from his chair.

“Do you know where it is?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, with a broad smile on his face. “I know where it is. I know everything about this place. I’ve been here many times before. Thank you again Pastor. God bless you,” he said, as he hobbled away on his cane.

I waited for Misery to come back so that we could finish our talk. Ten minutes . . . twenty minutes . . . thirty minutes passed and finally my thinking began to sharpen and focus and I began to realize that there was no Misery, so I searched for him in the bathroom.

Not there.

I went to look for him and asked people in the building if they had seen him. They said “No.” I walked all over the church. I asked the other homeless persons if they had seen a man called “Misery,” the guy I was just talking to but they said they never saw him, that there was no man among them named Misery. I described Misery to them, but they just looked at me as if I had lost my mind. They said they had never seen him. I described him again and they just looked at me in disbelief. I even asked some of the homeless children and teenagers if they had seen Misery and they all said, “No.”

Misery was gone just like that! He vanished into thin air and was never seen again. All the witnesses said that they had never even seen him in the homeless shelter, or in the church talking to me, and that I had to have been dreaming.

Was I?

Misery was gone. He was not there. I saw him with my very own eyes. I talked with him.  He spoke back to me. I heard his voice. I saw the twinkle in his eyes when he calmly said words of peace and comfort to me. I felt a healing presence from him as he thanked me for speaking the truth of God’s eternal promise of hope.  Misery was now gone. Misery was long gone.

Or, I began to ask myself, now finally and fully focused, is there still Misery somewhere in the church?

I will seek him out. I will find him and help him and we will finish our conversation.

“Misery? Misery! Are you there? Please come back so that we can continue to speak of God and both be healed!!!



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