He stepped out of prison just in time for the big snow. At 61, he was sleeping on the streets with arthritic hips and a record that no employer would give a second glance.
But as the snow fell on Fredericksburg, it was this little man who led the Micah charge to scrape the sidewalk of ice dust, every half hour. The coffee shop closed. The town shut down. And even the 4-wheel drives were tucked in tight. But he toted his blue plastic shovel from store-front to store-front, heaving away at the marshmallow drifts.
Come springtime, our shoveling friend had a birthday and money on the way. With a ripe work history, his monthly government check treated him well enough that a roof and comfortable bed was finally possible. But after years of four cold walls, a lack of sunshine, absent his love of yard work and human contact, something was missing. It wasn’t enough for this man to collect a check and live indoors.
He began collecting trash from the Baptist Church parking lot. He swept the 1300 block of Princess Anne so clean that not a leaf or cigarette butt could be found. Finding his service invaluable and wanting to jumpstart his potential for employment, Micah hired him through an Agency on Aging employment program.
Soon, he alone was sweeping and pulling weeds on Caroline and within a two to three block radius of the Micah Center. He came at 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings to collect Saturday night bar trash, left behind in the church parking lot, so that members didn’t have to step over it on their way to worship.
The neighboring businesses began asking him to help clean their alleyways and tend their flower-beds. A nearby church appointed him as their “farm manager,” putting him in charge of a community garden they grew on their property. Daily he tilled, planted and weeded, working side by side with church members and staff. When the vegetables were ripe, he picked them and carried them into the church food pantry where others in need delighted at the opportunity to receive fresh vegetables.
And then he began working on his own house, a little shanty place in town with aging features, weeds over-grown and a yard largely unkempt. The weeds and rubbish came down quickly. Small plants spared from the trash bin at a nearby nursery appeared in their place. He scavenged paint and minor materials from the unusable pile at construction sites. The four or so other residents, living in the same apartment house began buying rose bushes, seedlings and other potted pleasures to add to the tapestry unraveling in front of the house.
How telling it is that this “undesirable” would come to us an untended bed of human pain. But as the weeds were pulled and the Micah seeds were planted in his life, he chose to do the same for others. By example, he caused others to think about where they tossed their cigarette butts. He shared his love for gardening with others who needed to eat. And he connected a previously disconnected group of residents, by planting seeds in their lives and calling them to share the responsibility of community. Photos by Tina Jackson Photography www.tinajackson.net