a world full of blessings
He smiled at me as I passed. "How you doing today?" Fine, I said, are you okay? "Sure, God provides for me."
My partner, when I told him, brought out some of the left over soup from yesterday's lunch, after grumbling "well, hey, the dog food is probably good for him, it's the stuff we give out to the folks out there, practically people food--and it's not your problem is it?" He was feeling grumpy. The weather does that to him, that and trying to clean up things. Grumpy or not, he made sure Jack had food today--and behind my back at that.
Jack's about my age--oh, maybe a year or two younger or older; he looks a lot older, but then he sleeps rough and eats what he can find. Wild fruit, leaves, and--now, dog food. He's a veteran, a small man with gentle brown eyes. Last month he asked if I'd please read the important things he has been writing, and I said yes.
He brought in an old grocery bag crammed with scraps of paper. Some had mathematics on them. Dates compressed to one number. His mother's birthday. His mother's death day. His father's days. The days his two daughters were born. His own birth. Historical dates. Many add up to similar numbers. In large letters he prints: This is important, remember this.
On other sheets he writes things like "I am a slippery fish living on the fruits of the lord". There are details of an inheritance he rejected. There are statements that, try as I could, I couldn't make sense of...strings of letters, strings of numbers, words.
He tells me this writing, his life work, has the secrets of the universe in it and he needs to go to Sacramento and present this to the governor so that everyone will be saved.
And then there are the days he falls on the asphalt road and cries out "NOO!", talking, screaming, beseeching someone, something to leave him be. When I come to him then and ask if he is okay he says "oh yes, I just have some problems with him". Or, perhaps it is Him. I don't really know.
Over the months I have, when asked, given him blankets and coats and sleeping bags and tents. He sheds these like leaves. Yesterday when he came again as the bitter night was setting in and I handed him a sleeping bag I said "you know, if you could bring back some of the others--I could wash them..." I've said this a lot and it is quite unlikely I will see these again. He says "I don't like to be seen carrying a bag. The cops know you are homeless then. So I leave them and other people will find them." Ah Jack, I say, you know they just get rain soaked. He says he is very sorry. He then tells me...it's a great secret...that this spring, God tells him, he will be graced with the stigmata.
My conversations with Jack are very odd. I mean, what do you say to that? "Gee, that's nice?". I just nod my head and ask if he'd like some tangerines.
Meanwhile there's a local cleanup continuing. People have difficulty distinguishing objects that are garbage from people who are, they think, garbage. So three of the earnest clean up crew came by and said "Everything you give out we have to pick up". I said, earnestly, thank you so much for your hard work. I know this isn't easy. I'm so sorry if I am adding to your burden. But I am not going to have anyone freeze to death while I am able to prevent that.
The crew leader--also a small man with gentle brown eyes--asked "Are you taking care of that guy?" Upon inquiry I realized he meant Kevin, who is quite mad, and quite lost, and heartbreaking. He sleeps down the street a bit, having moved from the vacant lot. I told the leader "I don't really take care of anyone, but yes, I check on Kevin a lot. You know his family lives over there." "Yeah, I called his father. He can't do anything". I agree it is a sad story. Schizophrenia, brain injury.
"Is he a veteran?" I say yes, I think so. "But so are you, I'll bet, right?" Turns out no, and someday I'll sit and hear that story. Meanwhile we share a moment of...I don't know. Sorrow, hope. I know this cleanup guy has disrupted the camps. I also know he has given out gear to desperate people. I know, if we only can keep our hearts open, we are on the same side--wanting a place of compassion and care in our small region. Taking little steps on our own. Trying to do what feels right.
I was asked, last week, to meet with a state senator on behalf of our health center and as what was down on the program as a "homeless advocate". The local hospital administrator (who would later say "and when we discharge people with no place to go to we call her" gazing at me) (yeah, they do), said "so, as a 'homeless advocate' do you want everyone to be homeless?"
I think she was trying to be witty. It was an interesting thought though. I said no, of course. I said "I want everyone to have a place of refuge and warmth". As usual, when asked to talk about the situation locally, I ended up with tears in my eyes.
As usual the senator said "I hope you folks don't want any money from the state".
That night I came across Jack buying a pint of vodka. He said "it's not for me". Paul, my partner, says "it's funny how they all want to tell you they are really good".
They are really good, I said, really, at heart. I was thinking of this as I hitchhiked back from the bigger town a bit south of us. The deal had been that I get dropped off, do some needed stuff, phone my partner and he'd come get me--because I don't drive. After a few unanswered phone calls I thought "hey, I can get a ride, it's not far". There was a young man on the roadside ahead of me. He often stops by the shop, and told me I'd helped him a lot in the summer. I asked "so, do you think we'll hitch better together, or would you like me to wait till you get a ride and try on my own?" Since it was raining, since he was there first, I didn't want to hurt his chances.
We decided to try our luck together. A car loaded with other young guys stopped very quickly, and we squeezed in the back. They wanted to know why on earth I was out hitching. One said "if your oldest son knew he'd give you a ride". Of course he would, I said, I hadn't thought of it.
"Well, it's okay--you can think of all of us as your kids. We'll make sure you are okay."
They made sure I was safely back at my shop, at any rate. And came in for soup. And made me tear up. It's a world full of strange blessings. You just have to look.