Last week’s post, a poetic story of a lady who learned to embrace admiration, was (mostly) fictional. In this post, I share two true tales of conversations I had with two men, separated by ten years and over 100 miles. Both conversations were brief, but each taught me the value of being aware, of listening, and of releasing judgment and leading with compassion.Rucksack Artist
I woke this morning, cozy and warm,
the first hint of chill in the air,
following a rare desert rain.
For reasons I cannot explain,
my thoughts turned to the man
standing on a street corner
in the winter of 2016.
We spoke only once, he and I,
but our brief conversation
impacted my life.
Just inches from each other,
I could smell toil, sweat, and sin
pouring from his leathered skin –
the distant world that he bathed in.
His luxury, my given, a trace scent
of the shower I had that morning.
I was told, it was best to blend –
My finger without its wedding ring.
My face natural, bare cheeks and lips.
My body and head covered in dark knit.
My hands protected with warm mitts.
Standing next to me and clutching his bike,
wearing worn shoes and a rucksack on his back,
he told me his name. Alex is what he said.
He then told me about his morning routine –
quickly packing his few, but precious things,
before beginning another day of endless searching.
We looked into each other’s eyes.
He, not much taller than me,
guarded and unsure, but with each word,
more of his painful story he did purge.
Excitement did overtake his being,
then he knelt on one knee,
and with his hands, weathered but free,
he opened his pack and retrieved
a stack of papers that he was eager to share,
with a stranger who seemed to care.
I watched as he spread his life’s treasure
across the dead-end sidewalk.
His creations drawn with a pencil discarded,
whatever he could find,
whatever someone could spare.
Watching his enthusiasm extend
from sparked artist’s eyes,
that glistened beneath years
of sadness and trials,
to the ends of his talented
fingers, that brought to life
beauty seen only in his mind’s eye.
The images he created on found sheets
were nowhere to be seen
along the filthy tent-lined streets.
Near my feet,
spread across his makeshift gallery walls,
held in place with quickly found rocks,
sketches drawn with hands free
of his own key,
but carrying the weight of choices
that determined the path
of the man standing close to me.
While tears streamed down my cheeks,
my mind begged, How can this be?
Why aren’t Alex’s artistic masterpieces full-size and on display,
instead of stashed in a rucksack, stained and frayed?
It was moving day and I needed to find grub
for my hungry bunch and the movers rushing through.
I grabbed my wallet and headed to a nearby fast-food.
While waiting in line behind red taillights, I saw him.
Close enough to be seen but not too close to be a concern.
A scruffy man sandwiched between a dog on a leash
and a bag busting at the seams.
I watched him, getting lost in the well-loved sheets,
until it was time to move forward in the drive through.
I ordered enough for us and our helpful crew,
then added another bag for the sidewalk drifter
who satisfied his hunger with borrowed words.
I parked, then walked slowly
toward the man still lost in a story.
Arm stretched, I said, These are for you.
He smiled and replied, Oh, thank you.
I asked, What are you reading?
His response was a dissertation, giving me
reason to take a sidewalk seat.
I listened to the brilliant man
describe the plot with more passion and energy
than any professor I have paid to see.
We talked for a while then I ended our chat,
not by choice, but I needed to feed
the getting hungrier bunch.
As I walked back to my parked truck,
my brain was swimming, grasping for an answer
to the questions,
Why is this man surrounded by tires and trash,
instead of his own library of books, shelved and stacked?
Why is this man not teaching to lecture halls, packed?
Post Photos: Borrowed from Pixabay on Pexels ~ No camera on those days 🙂
Copyright © 2020 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.