His name was Anthony Isley King. His clothes were ragged and his face unkept. He smelled of alcohol, but didn’t appear to be intoxicated. His dark black skin blended perfectly with his dark clothes making him almost invisible against the backdrop of night.
As he approached, I could feel the weight that seemed to rest upon his shoulders. Something within my spirit moved me to talk to this man. My prejudices were quick to make themselves known and I attempted to set them aside.
Scents of alcohol lingered as he spoke, “Hey, brother, how are you?”
“I’m doing well. You?” My response was strategically open-ended, letting him know that I was ready to listen.
Anthony spoke with a depth that most of my daily conversations lack. He talked of brokenness and pain openly, yet his willingness to share his story didn’t beg for attention. Instead, it revealed a very real struggle that drew me into the battle.
Broke and Broken
Anthony’s pain started at an early age. After losing his mother and his brother, just a few short months apart, he began a lifetime battle with depression. To ease the pain, he sought solitude in alcohol and drugs. Slowly, the substance abuse ravaged his body resulting in numerous medical issues. The medical issues stripped him of the limited financial resources that he had. The result was a broke and broken man shackled to a life of homelessness.
My heart hurt—a kind of helpless guilt. This was real, and it was heavy. My mind searched for a way out. If I could offer him some money, or perhaps some advice, maybe it would end and I could get on with my evening. But I stayed and continued to listen.
When I asked him where he lived, he replied, “I live in the graveyard because the dead can’t hurt me anymore.” I’m not sure if he was telling the truth, but I shutter to consider the reality.
He spoke of faith long before I did and his words were filled with reverent anger. He was mad at God, but he hadn’t lost hope. This man was knowledgable, but raw and unfiltered. The more he spoke, the more I could feel the weight beginning to rise from his shoulders. As if I could begin to see a glimmer of life.
Then, he everything stopped and he said, “Satan is out there.”
No sooner than the words had left his mouth his mood changed. Hopelessness covered him like a black, suffocating blanket. It was as if he had admitted defeat to the temptation he was unable to escape.
The light switched off and the conversation drastically changed.
A Slave to Habit
Anthony started with a soft request, “A man just don’t feel right without a penny in his pocket, you know?”
I reached in my pocket, grabbed a penny and said, “I have a penny. I have dollars too.”
He quickly cut me off, “Man, I just need a little drink!” His tone was demanding and aggressive.
“Let’s go get some coffee and talk some more.” I was wrestling with my own words, but didn’t feel right buying this man a drink.
“What the hell, man? I know all about Jesus, I need money.” His words were authentic. He wasn’t concerned about conversation and hope, he wanted alcohol. And if I wasn’t willing to give it to him, he was willing to fight for it.
Part of me feels ashamed in sharing this with you, but I fled. As I crossed the street, Anthony’s curses echoed off of the walls of the downtown buildings. And still today, almost five years later, I still find myself thinking of Anthony Isley King.
The Freedom of Captivity
“In my life, I freed over a thousand slaves. I would have freed a thousand more if they actually knew they were slaves.” —Harriet Tubman
The great abolitionists words prove a powerful truth: we hate captivity, but we are terrified of freedom.
Although slavery has been abolished in America for more than 150 years, we are still a population of slaves. But unlike the ugly history of our country’s past, we are slaves by our own decision.
We long for freedom, but we’re afraid of changing what we’ve always known. Wether it’s comfort or alcohol or money or prejudice or the opinions of people or our own understanding, we are enslaved. We’re chained to the desire to be liked or praised, to worldviews that leave us confined, to a lifestyle that an ever-increasing income can’t satisfy, and the list continues.
We are not cursed because we don’t know freedom. We are cursed because our freedom has made us captive.
The point is, we have to learn to see our own condition for what it is. Recognition of bondage is the first step of breaking free.
I urge you to refuse the shroud of slavery in your life.
You were born to be free.