Finally, the regular breathing of two sleeping boys emanates from the other bed.
Persuasion into sleep started about an hour and a half ago, and the challenges of two excitable little men sharing a bed in an unfamiliar place have ranged from the expected wrestling and kicking to the more surprising insistence from one that he needs to rest his book (which he can’t see in the dark) on the other’s head while he reads it. Thankfully, Rufus entered deep, unmoving sleep just before Billy started attempting scissor kicks on him, and amazingly didn’t stir throughout the ordeal.
We are in Jacksonville, Florida while Jonathan runs the bookstore for a pastors’ conference here, and staying in a ‘family room’ in a downtown hotel. As well as swapping Chicago’s snowy temperatures for warmer, sunnier climes, we have also been parachuted into a different culture as we encounter southern ways, accents and even church differences.
Interactions conducted at a louder volume, the longer vowels of the southern voices lingering in the corridors and more suited ministers and coiffured wives than I’ve seen at any other conference. It’s a friendly crowd, and we’ve been so impressed by the volunteers and staff who are enthusiastic and eager to help. The dining room is manned by more senior citizens (who don’t lack energy), and we are directed to the preferred table with smiling but firm politeness, with ‘m’ams’ and ‘sirs’ peppering the exchanges.
Outside of the venue, downtown Jacksonville is vibrant with impromptu music and loud laughter of those gathered in the public square, but also tinged with sadness and desperation as we’ve seen more homeless than anywhere else we’ve been on our travels. There’s a big black demographic, and it feels more diverse and international than other places. The boys can be caught staring at any given time as they take in different faces, walks and intonations along the way.
Rufus has been asking – with the directness and innocence of a four year old – about the people who have so many things with them, and are always sitting on the pavement. As I’ve been explaining the desperation and poverty that can mean people are left without a home, and have to sleep on the street, I’ve been struck by the sadness and poignancy of the scene before me. I’m reminded of my privilege, and convicted about how I am loving my neighbour – even those without a neighbourhood to call their own. I’m always unsure of the best way to help the homeless I encounter, but I’m sure my indecision is no excuse for doing nothing. Praying I’d know how to love people like I’ve seen this trip with the distinctive, tangible love of Christ.