He walked into my office with a slight limp and slumped. Maybe he was just sore from sleeping on the floor, and together we created that age-old safe space called small talk. Clancy was new to the Lamb Center. It was a busy Saturday and I had seen several other names after his on the clipboard. My thoughts, though anchored in a genuine smile, were off to the races calculating how much time we had. I needed to see everyone on the list before closing. And then I noticed his hands. There was something about his hands. They were slightly tucked behind the unbuttoned cuffs of his plaid shirt, the collar of which was off to the left. And the T-shirt under it was skewed in more ways than one. At the neck these two garments looked like the top of an active volcano. Ashes around the diameter, a fine head emerging. Had his auburn hair been subdued, there was something reminiscent of a Roman bust about Clancy – but that was clearly my imagination. What was obvious was the stubble, the tan, the fine white lines around his eyes, the echoes of a wilder time in his eyes, and the veins around his temples.
As his raspy words began to fill the room, another image began to take form. It was a puzzling one. Clancy presented stoic, but his hands were talking about resignation. He said something about getting what he deserved and staying strong, but his fingers were in retreat. He had seen much and waged many battles. He had fought demons and come back to tell, but something told me that he was exhausted as if his strength had been pulled from under his feet. “I’m married and have 3 great kids, but my drinking got the best of me. It’s like a disease”. Then his formidable and chiseled hands emerged, shaky palms facing up. “I’ve been a contractor all of my life and with these hands I raised a family”. It was then that his truth hit me hard. His hands held the secrets of a deeper memory, one that his mind had forgotten. “My wife kicked me out a few months ago, then I stayed at a friend’s house for a while, then I overstayed my welcome and couch-surfed until I heard about you guys”. The Lamb Center was the last bulwark in what had been a bloody battle. Anybody that meant anything to him had severed ties. Strangers at the Lamb Center had come to his defense. And he was Jesus to me.
His hands told the story of a million nails hammered into walls, decades sawing wood and sweeping dust, toiling until the wee hours, getting scars and bruises and blisters along the way. His hands had felt the weight of plywood and carried heavy loads of cement and with those same two hands he had held the soft face of his wife and the sweaty skin of his playful children decades ago. His hands had not forgotten what they had done to build and protect the ones his heart loved. His hands would never let go of them. Clancy’s fists would hold them tight and take their memories with him beyond the grave. But they were also battered. They knew, better than anyone, just how much they had hurt others.
Over the course of a few weeks, I saw Clancy transformed. He smiled more, he talked to other guests and shared meals. He was welcomed. But, to be honest, I began missing the old Clancy. His preference for khaki pants and iron-pressed shirts, a clean-shaven look and hair parted to the right, had replaced the volcano. A suburban-looking man had swept traces of the warrior away. Although I haven’t seen him in a while, rumors have it that he found a job. I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that he was held by the hands of Jesus, with a grip stronger than the metal that pierced them. And that’s where his real bulwark lays, with the Lamb of God.
The names and photos have been changed to protect the dignity of those involved.
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