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]