Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Part II

You don't know old man John, but that doesn't much matter. He's moving away, remember?

Well, maybe you don't remember. Maybe I'm the only one that remembers him.

I always found him on that bench. And he always smiled at me when I walked up. Or if I drove by, he always waved. Still smiling through that rusty beard of his. I don't understand how he could smile, really. He was alone, except for that drunk son of his.

For the most part, he was alone.

And I'd sit on that bench with him just staring down Lyden Street. It leads to the water you know. Follow the road down the hill, cross Water Street and you'll be at the marina.

The old stone post office held its corner. And time ticked away in the tower above. I don't know if John realized time. He kept a blank stare breathing heavy. Every few breaths the gasps would attack him.

I thought that was the end. It never was, but it sounded so agonizing. I guess it was normal for him though. He'd just hold the oxygen mask that much harderpressed to his face, cheeks imploded and mouth wide open. Gasping. For. Air.

He said he uses four tanks a week now. The hospital only gave him three. They said it would get him through. That's all.

I guess we're all just getting by with life. Scraping the bottom of the barrel and trying to find more. But there's no more ice cream. No more summer laughs. Life is just typical and John is merely a typical homeless man.

It never failed. I always found John sitting, staring and all I thought is he must be picturing the ocean. What else is in a man's eyes, if not hope?

Sometimes no words were ever exchanged in our company. I would listen for God and find the winter winds making me reach deeper in my pockets for a warm place to hide. I would count the cars. Listen to the last leaf break from the tree behind us. And wonder if there was anything more than this.

Then I would catch John out of the corner of my eye. He was smiling. Of course.

In those moments I knew there was more to life. It is a hope most of us don't afford ourselves. Then I knew why all he did was stare down Lyden Street; he knew there was hope even at the ends of the earth.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Part I

Old man John's apparently moving to Yarmouth. And it's been three years since George passed. The leaves still survive molding with the wind. They were brittle beds, but they are soft now when the rains fall and the snows cover like a collection of the seasons.

I have grown up with this blessed-life perception of the world, but it's nothing like the books say it is. School teachers never taught us about people like old man John. Miss Evans never told me I would find a homeless person in Plymouth. She never told me I would find beggars outside the Vatican. And she never told me I'd cry for them.

Because when the skies fade and day is stuck in the doldrums of dusk, I think about old man John. I remember how George used to come into the shop and read the newspaper upside down; he was practically blind. How he'd more than often smell and how I'd remain silent when I knew Mark had to kick him out. I felt bad for the man, but that's all I ever did - simply hold a single emotion.

Elie Wiesel once said, "Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end." In my emotional state, I am indifferent. I dwell on the fact that I have a coffee in hand and a car to drive me home at night. And then I just think about my home - how I actually have a home.

I have a home.

For the past year, old man John's home was the bench in front of the Unitarian church. I always found him out there. Sitting on that bench. Elbows locked and fists clenched to the seat like it was an arm wrestling competition. And he was never losing, but I don't think he was winning either.

I mean, he wore an oxygen tank like cancer never actually left him. And that old navy hat - if a hat is what you can actually call it because it fell more like an Americanized turban or scrap of cloth folded at specific seams unraveling and fading and all-together falling apart on his matted scalp - gave him that typical homeless man look.

But I can't believe there's anything typical regarding homelessness.

So in a land where all days are not fair,
Fair days went on till on another day
A thousand golden sheaves were lying there,
Shining and still, but not for long to stay
-E.A. Robinson


I told her I'd write her soon.  It never happened.  Her valentine never reached the post; it's still in my room.  Maybe I'll send it soon. 

If I understood the rhythms of life I would change the world.  I would send you those flowers wilting on my desk, taking up all the sunlight and clinging to hope in what seems a hope-ridden place.  I would masquerade like the wind and push the tide to your shores.  And I'd give you all the notes cluttering my bedroom floor.  Because I'd be in tune with the world around me.

I told her I'd call today.  The phone's idle in the kitchen.  The tea's steeping.  And all the clouds covered the sky.  

"Life is not complicated," mother used to tell me.

I don't know why I never listened to that.  Maybe I will send those flowers today.  But they're falling apart.  Maybe that could be artistic.  Well, by the time they reach you, it will have been a week.  I don't think they'll survive without water for that long.  

Henry Alden once wrote, "In loving one another we find God."  Now I know why mother told me life isn't complicated.  And those flowers on my desk, I'll plant you a garden for when you come over; it all works out.