My Ted Talk: Magic Grits and Homelessness

My name is Josh Durham. Many of you have heard this story before, but if you want to know how Trinity has impacted me, this is the one I like to tell.

There I was, very much outside my comfort zone and walking into the Youth Center to serve as an overnight host at Room in the Inn. You should know about Room In The Inn, if you don’t already. Every winter, on Wednesdays, we open our Fellowship Hall and provide warm meals and shelter for some of our city’s less fortunate.

But until this particular afternoon, it was a mission for which I’d been perfectly happy to let others do the work. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to serve at Trinity, and I wasn’t comfortable doing this one at all. Let me organize sports teams. Or lead a Sunday school class. Or drop off canned food for Loaves and Fishes.

Overnight hosting just wasn’t for me. It was way too close to the action.

And if my wife, Lynette, hadn’t somehow come to be in charge of lining up the overnight hosts, it’s entirely possible I never would have signed up.

So there I was. And there he was. The middle-aged man in a suit, the director of the Room In The Inn program, and he’d come to make sure that we had what we needed for the night.  He’d loosened his tie, and his hair was a little out of place, but I knew this was from his hard day at work at the non-profit agency.

How nice of him to come, I thought.

And when we went to the Fellowship Hall and he helped us set up the mattresses for our guests, I again thought, how nice of him. But when I noticed his suitcase, carrying what were surely his most important belongings in the world, I realized that everything I’d thought about him, and about the homeless, was wrong.

His name was Ted. That night we sat in the Fellowship Hall and talked. We just talked. If you have ever heard the TED talks online or on NPR, I guess you could say this was mine.

He took an interest in the book I was reading.  We talked about my having recently taking up running. We talked about what I did for a living, which led to the movie “My Cousin Vinnie.”  Since he was from up north, he could do the most amazing Joe Pesci impression. And we talked about his divorce and his struggles with alcohol, which cost him his license, his job, and which sent him to some bad places from which he was trying so very hard to return.

The next morning we parted as friends.

A few months later I saw Ted walking down Sharon View Road. I pulled up beside him, rolled down the window, and, if you know “My Cousin Vinnie” this will make sense, I asked him if he knew where I could get some “magic grits.” I gave him a ride to where he needed to go, and during that ride we talked some more.  He was still trying.  Still fighting.

A few months later I heard from him. He called me. He was in Charleston, working at Jos A Banks as a salesperson. He said it wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Later, a card came. He’d gotten an opportunity with Charleston’s parks and rec department. Though that’s the last I heard from him, I think of him often, and I hope he is well.

Since then I’ve spent the night in the Fellowship Hall several more times. I’ve even gotten Steve to do the same. Many of you have heard that one of the guests during his stay found some loose change in the Fellowship Hall. When Steve said she could certainly keep it, she insisted, as a thank you, that he put it in the next Sunday’s offering.

I said there are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to serve here at Trinity, but there are thousands of ways that this place can move you. And move you in ways you could never have imagined.

My story is just one example, and I thank you for letting me share it with you.

Beautiful lives are those that bear
For other lives their burden of care;
Beautiful souls are those that show
The Spirit of Christ wherever they go.

—Abbott (Ted included this poem in the card he sent)