Friday, April 22, 2005

messengers in odd places

T- lives across the street from me. He and his partner are artists; unlike wannabes these two guys live on their art. They sell it on the street, they donate it to friends, they have shows in local cafes, they work out of their basement. My roomie and I met a girl friend of ours at our local bar and T- sauntered over when he saw us. And the conversation between the two of us touched me more than I would have expected.

I was dumbstruck at how open this man is. With his southern accent, his long elegant body and his eye for beautiful things, he hangs out with the homeless people under wacker; he gives money to the crazy naked lady on halsted; he walks to the bus stop and invites the women from the mission to wait for the bus in his living room while serving them egg nog. When he digs in trash and finds the stuff to make his art he doesn’t think this is strange; to him trash is the equalizer – we’re all on the bottom, he says. Some of us just don’t know it.

And when I told him of the decision I’d probably have to make tomorrow morning (yes, it’s drawn out this long) he suddenly excused himself and went to his apartment next door. When he came back he had a short string of fresh water and black pearls and crystal in his hand. At the end of the short strand a tiny medallion of the Virgin Mary and a crucifix hung. He laid them on the table between us.

‘I don’t know you very well,’ he said. ‘But I know that when you talked about working with the Y your voice lifted and your eyes lit up. When you talked about the other, you stumbled. There are things we all have to give away and pride is one of them. Life has taught me humility; I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck, I’ve eaten peanut butter sandwiches and thought them feasts, I’ve counted pennies when I used to have thousands. But I’ve never lost faith that my life had meaning, that there was something I was meant to do. I don’t have religion the way other people have but I’ve always thought I’d have to answer to … some … spark.”

He gave me the short strand. They were beautiful – creamy misshapen pearls, gray black pearls and crystals the color of a girl’s blush.

“It’s better to know you’ve done the right thing rather than the convenient thing. A comfortable man is not safe,’ he said, quoting Benjamin Franklin. ‘When you pray about your decision, use these beads. This is the beauty of humility. This is the beauty of sacrifice.”

And, in all places – my neighborhood bar – I felt my eyes fill with tears as I wound the strand around my fingers.

[cross posted at screed]


Cygnet said...

I have found that my neighborhood bar is sometimes the best place to meet people who make my eyes fill with tears. It is often a place where people go to feel safe and lower the masks that they carry throughout their day.

Just keep your eyes open, and beauty and truth will often find you. The difficult part is recognizing it and accepting it for the gift that it is.

the reverend mommy said...

Holy ground, indeed.
And people wonder if Jesus hangs at bars....

Daddy said...

Yes, but you know me. What of my being a skeptic? See you Friday.

LutheranChik said...

That is an awesome story.

ding said...

we can't be skeptics all the time. if we're to believe that God talks to us in different ways, that purpose wears different faces, then perhaps we can find comfort in the symbolism of prayer beads. or, more, the comfort of having a stranger read you closer than you've been able to read yourself.

in any case, the corporate job didn't pan out (i'm ok with that and am only missing the money that it would have meant) so let's pray the non profit thing works out this week - because i'm plum out of ideas after this.

Anonymous said...

I think I might have met this artist fellow. I must say, I'm going to have to read your story again, because its not clear to me what the pearls were for, and why they were given to you, or anything. It just seems a mystery of why any of this would happen and his beliefs about doing the right thing and such don't really clarify why it was YOU that recieved them.

ding said...

exactly. a mystery.

these things probably have very little to do with one another, on the surface, but it's just how his gesture affected me.

that's all.