I heard the sound of tears before I noticed him sitting there. Shane and I had been walking to the gas station to use the bathroom sometime after midnight when I saw the man crying into his jacket sleeves at one of the picnic tables outside of Little 5 Pizza. What happened next is hard to explain with words.
There was a shift; a transaction inside my soul… the submission of my physical mind for the sanctification of the spirit. I could almost call it reflexive, because there wasn’t a single thought that crossed my mind. I heard a sob, I saw a man, and the next thing I knew I was stepping over the bench to sit down across from him, my hand finding his arm, and my voice whispering “what’s wrong?”
Sniffling and rubbing his nose into his jacket sleeve he glanced up at me with watery blue eyes, his lip quivering under a thick red beard, his expression holding a deep despair. Another glance from my eyes to his jacket sleeve and another sniffle, and his face tightened into another sob as he choked out the words… “Why do you care?”
There was a moment of confusion as my mind was unable to explain something it didn’t understand. “Because I do.” I said with a smile, acknowledging that it wasn’t me at all, but the spirit in me that cared deeply, with an intensity that I felt burning into my heart as it desperately desired to manifest for this crying man. He looked up at the sound of my voice, and as his eyes caught mine this time, he didn’t look away. His face relaxed as we stared at each other, and in the short distance between my eyes and his, I could feel the light of joy take over me.
“What’s your philosophy on life?” He asked me with an eyebrow raised.
Again a moment of confusion as my mind searched for answers it didn’t have. Deep breath. Truth…
“Life is Beautiful.” I said, the light of joy still written on my face, a smile that I can’t explain, a peace that passes all understanding, and gratitude for the man that brought me to this table where the spirit covered me with these emotions.
His eyes lightened and dried up as he examined my face with curiosity. “Well how do you get there, I mean, why do you see it that way?”
Another deep breath and another smile… this time, as I stared into the eyes of this man and a sad song came on the radio still playing out of the loud speakers above us, honesty was on the tip of my tongue, waiting for the chance to be set free.
“I look for the beauty in things. In the world around me…” I told him in a whispered tone, as though I was giving him the secret of life. The man seemed almost shy as he gave me a little smile and a nod, blinking and looking back at his jacket sleeve. He asked if I could hear the song on the radio and I nodded. “Okay well, there’s this girl…” he began, and unfolded the story of his life-long love, and that there might be a chance that she still loves him. “So what do you think I should do?” He asked me a few moments later.
Advice. It seems many people ask for it lately and very few people take it. Yet, I still tell everyone the same thing. It burst from my lips as though it was the only thing that made any sense.
His face knit up with confusion and surprise. “Where?”
“You know that, not me…” I said with a smile.
“Like to Florida? She’s there. I could find her…” his face fell again and I thought he was going to bury his head in his sleeve as he whimpered. “But I’m so ugly.”
“No!” My hand squeezed his arm with urgency and his eyes met mine again. As I looked deep into those watery blue eyes, I felt the spirit watching this man, loving this man, and honoring him as royalty. “You are beautiful!!”
He laughed. He actually threw his head back and laughed out loud. His eyes sparkled as he stuck his pointer finger in a gap where a tooth had been. “Look, I fell down, busted my tooth, I am ugly, I am…”
“Who cares about a tooth?” I told him. “That stuff happens. I bet you clean up real nice,” I said smiling. I touched his dreadlocks and whispered, “a haircut and a shave, I bet you wouldn’t even recognize yourself…”
He smiled at me sideways as he said “what, you don’t like my hair?” We both laughed and he burst out the words “you’re awesome,” as a gigantic smile overwhelmed his face. Joy. It’s an essence that can be transferred from one person to another so easily, no one should live without it.
For the first time since I had found myself sitting on the bench, I asked myself if Shane was close by. As if on cue, the man looked over my shoulder and smiled at something behind me. “She’s awesome,” he said as he nodded in my direction. I could feel Shane smile in my heart without turning around.
The man furrowed his eyebrows for a moment and leaned back from the table. “Do you read the Bible?”
My eyes popped open with a happy surprise as I said “Yes!” and watched the man give me another beautiful smile.
“What’s your favorite part?” he asked me.
Peace soaked my spirit as I closed my eyes for a moment before releasing whatever would be right for this man into the space in front of my lips. “Mmmmm…. I like James chapter 1” I said as I opened my eyes to find blue ones watching me carefully. Another big smile and a triumphant fist in the air as he repeated my choice. “James chapter 1 she says!” He chuckled as he began digging around in his jacket pockets. “If you don’t mind, could we read it? I mean if it’s okay?” He asked me softly, only slightly insecure with his request.
I nodded, breathless, speechless, in awe at the way the spirit orchestrates these moments of divine wisdom. The Bible that the man pulled out of his pocket was tattered and uncovered, the index hanging in shreds from his fingers as he carefully opened the book on the picnic table in between us with the words facing me.
As I flipped the pages of this worn book to the passage I was looking for, I wondered why… But I watched this man bury his face into his jacket and I gripped his elbow as I read the words aloud.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds. Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
I felt the man’s arm began to tremble and I knew that he was crying again without looking up from the page. I saw a light next to me and glanced up for a moment to notice another man standing right next to me, staring at me, with a small blue light in his fingertips. My eyes didn’t understand and my lips couldn’t seem to formulate any other words except the ones on the page in front of me, so I turned back to the page and read louder, the passion of truth flowing into the words and into the hand that was still holding onto the crying man seated across from me.
“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat, and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed.”
I heard the man mumbling something into his jacket and I stumbled in my words, suddenly unsure if I should continue… there was motion around me on either side, I heard people talking and light flashing but something pressed me forward onto the next page.
“Blessed is the man that perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
I could hear him now, mumbling… “Beautiful, Beautiful” through his tears. Peace overwhelmed me and the world grew silent.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
I finished the chapter and released a breath that felt like it had been held through the entirety of the reading. The dark night, the lights hanging from the branches of the trees, the music playing softly in the back ground; nothing had changed. And yet… something had.
The man slowly lifted his head from his sleeve and thanked me. “Wow. You read really nice,” he said. I smiled and whispered. “Life is beautiful.” His face broke into a smile and there was this moment as we sat there smiling at each other that the whole world seemed to express Love for us and this Holy exchange. The speakers that hang on the concrete wall of the pizza place behind us were sending out a sweet tune into the night air, and we were smiling so big that the man’s eyes almost disappeared in his deep wrinkles and he chuckled. I giggled. “Life is Beautiful,” he repeated just before the voice in the music sang out the words, “You’re beautiful!” and we both burst into a fit of laughter. The man held his hands in the air and looked at Shane. “Can you believe that?! You guys are awesome…”
It’s funny how these things happen. As some sort of inexplicable creation of the spirit, as though it’s a dream, too good to be reality, too blessed to be born into the physical, and yet here it is… shining so brightly that it’s the only thing that matters.
“It makes me want to get Burroughs.” He waited for a moment to see if I would reply, and when I didn’t, he asked “You know Burroughs?”
I shook my head and his eyebrows shot up. “You don’t know Burroughs. Oh, man… We gotta read that! Where do you live anyway?” he asked me. I told him that for the time being, I live in the neighborhood. That I’m staying over at the Junkman’s Daughter, in the parking lot half a block down. He was happily surprised. “Really? Oh wow! I’m over here, I have a spot… See where that light is?” he pointed across the street and I nodded. “It’s a feminist bookstore,” he said with a smile. “They’re real cool, they let me sleep there on the porch.”
I asked him if he would meet me tomorrow to read some more, so that he could enlighten me on Burroughs. He was smiling again, and telling us that good friends are hard to come by. Only then did I realize that I didn’t know the man’s name. “John Mark” he whispered with a smile.
“I love you John Mark,” I said before Shane and I walked up the street to the gas station.