The Salt of the Earth (and Chocolate)
I went to Starbucks recently to read the book of Matthew.
I was homeless that week. Well, not really—but it was the end of winter break, and I was in that awkward few days before classes start up again, sleeping on friends’ couches and living on chicken nuggets and cold hot dogs. During the day, I wandered around the frozen city, looking for places with hot drinks and comfortable chairs. Not exactly homeless, but looking for a home.
Which is the other reason I was at Starbucks. To buy a salted caramel hot chocolate.
Salted caramel hot chocolate is close to my heart as far as hot drinks go. It means home. Every time I’ve had one it’s been with dear friends, so you can understand why.
I bought one and had just settled down at a table by the window when an old man in a worn hat and a scraggly mustache pushed open the door, gusting in some of the slate-gray cold. His shabby gait and clothing clattered incongruously with the manicured interior of the cafe. People in neckties peered over their laptops and lattes as he ambled over to a table near me and pulled out a chair, dangerously close to my personal space.
To make matters worse, he turned my direction.
“Nice day, isn’t it?” he said, obviously eager for company.
I decided I wasn’t afraid of him. Can’t hurt to indulge in a little conversation, right? I chatted aloofly for a few minutes, discovering that he was 51 years old, had $70 on his last paycheck (“$70!” he said) and lived alone in a house nearby. He volunteered all the information at the barest inclination of interest from me.
“I like it here, at this new Starbucks,” he ventured finally, “because it’s warm. I come here a lot. No one’s ever talked to me before, though.”
Not exactly cold, but looking for warmth.
I had a stack of Bible translations and prayer diaries in front of me, ready to read and write in solitude. But I found myself offering him a drink instead.
“Do you want to try a salted caramel hot chocolate? It’s my favorite drink.”
“Oh—well … yes, please.”
I bought a Venti and brought it over to him.
By then, people were turning in their chairs to stare at our odd duo, and I tried to ignore them. I had surpassed the bounds of normal conversation—this was getting excessive.
I handed him a packet of salt.
“Usually they put this on themselves, but they’re out of salt today. It’s not salted caramel without it!”
We looked pretty funny, sprinkling iodized salt on our Starbucks drinks.
“Now this is good,” he said, taking a long, warm swig.
“You know, this is the nicest thing someone has done for me in … [he counted in his head] in two years.
“The last time was when that preacher bought me my bike.”
As he started excitedly describing the blue Schwinn bicycle parked outside of the cafe, I realized it was his only means of transportation to the coffee shop.
“That’s right, it’s the best bicycle in America,” he drawled proudly, oblivious to the fact that he rode a bicycle to Starbucks in the freezing snow.
He proceeded to describe every bolt and screw of it, as affectionately as a man talks about his Lamborghini: the color of the paint, the broken brake handle, how he couldn’t do wheelies on it anymore like he did when he was a kid—everything. Soon he was at the end of his drink but not the end of his words. But he was courteous. He drained the last bit of silky, caramel-laced chocolate, and stood up to leave.
“Can I ask you your name?”
He hesitated in asking, like he was used to being turned down the simple courtesy of an introduction. I told him, and I remembered to ask for his.
“My name’s Levi,” he said, and added a broad smile. And as he left, he turned around.
“God is going to bless you for this, you know.”
I watched him pedal off in the snow on his bike and opened my New Testament to where I’d left off in Matthew 25. I still had some cold chocolate in the bottom of my cup.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’
Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”
I started to cry right there in Starbucks.
I was homeless and you gave me a room.
Or, not exactly homeless, but looking for a home.
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
Or, not exactly thirsty, but looking for a drink.
… Which happened to mean home already.
MariJean Wegert is a bookworm-turned-athlete, barefoot runner, and aspiring world-traveler. She dreams of a career in writing, traveling, making a home for a family, (preferably sons), and being used by God in magnificent ways.