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The Sidewalks of Saint Louis


Br. David Wigger



















I live in Saint Louis, Missouri, where sidewalks are platforms for urban downtown life in this midsized city. A statement from the Chamber of Commerce might say that St. Louis offers a blend of urban amenities and a more relaxed pace than larger cities. With a rich history, engaging cultural attractions, and many vibrant neighborhoods, experiences abound for residents and visitors alike.


But. that glossy statement isn’t complete. It helps residents feel good about their city and visitors feel at ease, but it doesn’t cover the fullness of life on the streets. I live on the streets of downtown St. Louis — well, not really, because I live in a condo. Yet, my life takes me to the streets: my pharmacy and supermarket are six blocks away, my dentist four blocks, a café and restaurant across the street, other restaurants scattered throughout the city, two art galleries within four blocks, and four coffee shops within three blocks — and a national park between Fourth Street and the Mississippi River! So, I walk the streets to do life. In my walking, I encounter many opportunities to be a loving presence.












I have a condo to return to, unlike Stanley, who, most days, can be found somewhere along the 1300 block of Washington Avenue and, if raining, in a doorway. Stanley has swept the sidewalk in front of a store, washed windows for shop owners, or carried out trash for food or a little change. Some shop employees or office workers bring him food when they leave the restaurant on their lunch break.


One day, as I walked home, I saw Stanley sitting on a low wall ahead of me. I greeted him, “Afternoon, Stan.” His usual grunt of a response was barely audible. “Are you okay?” I asked, concerned that his response, although usually barely communicative, was even less so.

Stanley began telling me about being sick, that the room he had in a shelter might not be available to him in the future, and that he had heard from his family that a relative had died.


I put my arm around him, telling him how sorry I was to hear all of that and that he must be really hurting and anxious. I told him I would check with his shelter and see what was happening with his room. As I hugged him, I asked if he would like me to pray with him.

Sitting on that low retaining wall, when I finished praying, Stanly said, “Bless this good man,” and then reached his arm around me for a hug.

But I don’t always feel helpful. A lady rushed behind me and, in broken English, asked if I could help her. She had just arrived from Europe, she told me and was searching. In a halting conversation, she couldn’t tell me a place or a person she was searching for; she only repeated, “I’m searching.” As I tried to find out more about her quest, she lost patience with her lack of language proficiency and with me and hurried off.



















I met Maurice as I returned from the pharmacy. I was about half a block from my home when he approached me, crossing 15th Street. He asked me for help as I stepped off the curb. Already a step into the street, I paused and suggested we step back onto the sidewalk.

The average food- or shelter-challenged person on St. Louis streets begins an encounter by asking for help. I often follow that inquiry by telling the person I don’t have any money since I don’t carry cash when walking the city streets. They often follow the first query with, “Just a dollar? or maybe a quarter? I just need…” and then, if I don’t quickly speak up, they’ll begin a story about their desperate plight, which is often woven together to elicit pity.


Maurice didn’t have a story, or he didn’t tell it to me if he had one. Instead, he smiled at me, said, “Thank you,” and continued onto the sidewalk. I thought that was an unusual response from someone asking for help. I admit that the smile disarmed me, for usually, a frown attempts to express pain, or a scowl reveals anger under the surface since, apparently to them, I could easily afford it.


Instead of dismissing him with a half-hearted “I’m sorry, I wish I could help you” and turning to walk to my warm home, I looked him in the eye and asked, “Maurice,” — he brightened at the sound of his name — “how are you?” With a slight drop of his head and tone of voice, he said, “I’m alright.” I lightly touched his arm and asked, “Maurice, what’s going on?”


The weariness that had enveloped him when he approached me seemed to lift and float away like seeds from a cottonwood tree. He said, with brighter eyes, “The only thing I need is a job. Do you know where I can get a job?”  I told him I didn’t, “But let’s talk about it,” I suggested. We sat on a low retaining wall and discussed possibilities he might explore. We finished talking, hugged, and Maurice turned toward the heart of the city.

As I turned to cross 15th Street toward home, Maurice called to me, saying, “I’ll pray for you.”



















They live on the sidewalks, which become bedrooms for some, dining rooms for others, and even playgrounds for kids. For me, the sidewalks are places for God’s grace and for me to show love.

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