“Live simply, but do not simply live.”
I wrote this down once (now twice), and I find myself thinking about those words more and more each day. The words are not mine, although who they originally belonged to is a mystery to me. The sentiment is nothing more than a Universal Truth, those things when first said that are embedded in our conscious as easily as any habitual act.
Universal Truths live forever.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of dining with my wife at Applebee’s (they have a great oriental chicken salad). While walking into the restaurant, my eyes happened upon a homeless man next to a bicycle which was laden with–likely–everything he owned in the world. My initial impression of this man was exactly what you might expect: disheveled with a beard that might make nesting birds jealous. His clothes were second- or third-hand layers of torn cotton, denim and/or flannel and he stooped.
He did not look at me.
I did not give the man a second thought except to wonder what he was doing so far north in my fair city. (It’s not often you see homeless away from the parks which surround the soup kitchens or shelters, especially when the temperature had yet to climb out of the 50s during the day and a light rain had been falling for hours.)
Following dinner, my wife and I walked back to our car. The man was still there, and while he was at least thirty yards away, I thought he said something to me. From what I could tell, it was a guttural “Hi,” not some request for money.
As I sat down behind the wheel, I said something like “that’s going to bother me.” My wife didn’t know what I was talking about; I don’t think she saw the man either going into or out of the restaurant. Nevertheless, she inquired and I told her what I saw.
“I have a twenty,” she said.
And so I drove my car up next to this man’s resting spot, stepped out in the light rain, handed him our gift, told him to “take care,” and drove away.
Check one for karma, and all that.
Here’s the rub: as I passed the man the twenty, our fingers touched. His were calloused beyond belief, like the roughest lizard skin, and he was covered in what had to be months of dirt. It is not so much the act of donation that has me thinking of this event so many weeks later.
I think about those hands.
I think about the years this man has lived on earth.
I think about his past.
And I think, in that one brief second, I met God.
Here’s what I mean: when my wife and I decided to go to dinner, we did not pick Applebee’s. It was later in the evening and most of the restaurants had lines out the door.
Not only had we not picked Applebee’s, we hadn’t even picked the time to go to dinner. On the drive down one of the major thoroughfares through that part of our city, I flipped on the windshield wipers…and suddenly lost one of them to a poor latch. Because you really need wipers, especially when it’s raining, I pulled over to a nearby Pep Boys to get a replacement.
Twenty minutes later, it was past our dinnertime. We picked Applebee’s and drove into the parking lot where the homeless man was resting. We were in the restaurant for maybe an hour. Afterward, the man was still there.
He could have left. He likely would have left if the rain had let up any because he was under an overhang keeping his possessions dry.
About a week prior to all of this, my wife had decided she would keep a twenty on her at all times. In our part of the world, debit cards and plastic are much easier to use and carry, so the very idea of having cash on hand is weird. Just prior to losing the wiper blade, she’d pulled out the money at a Walgreen’s.
Now you can write all of that up to a string of coincidence, and you might valid arguments for it.
I can write it all up to something I can’t explain, and I think I have valid arguments for that.
You can discount my having met “God” and brush it all off in any way you like, but never once did I tell you what “God” was. (That you ascribed your version of “God” to my blog post should tell you a little about yourself.)
You see, as with that first Universal Truth I spouted at the beginning of this post, I have another I use here and there: “The only person who can tell you what it’s like to wrestle a shark, is the person who has wrestled a shark.”
In that one split second when I touched the man’s hands, I saw the whole Universe connected and I met God.
Sometimes a writer needs a little spark.