What does a single mom in Rwanda, a tow truck driver in Oregon, a garbage man in Chicago, and a whole host of others, just like them, have in common?
They represent who I am.
They are the many people I have crossed paths with over the course of my 47 years here on Planet Earth. PEOPLE is a book filled with a collection of their short stories, and more.
We all have a story. A story that I believe, must be heard.
In a world of soundbites, we miss too much. This book is but a reminder to myself to slow down and live life with eyes wide open.
We add life to life when we seek out the story in everyone.
I invite you to join me, as we seek out their's.
He looked to be in his late eighties as he stood there zipping up an inner-liner that was being worn underneath a denim jacket. It felt like it was cold enough to snow, but probably more like in the forties.
I had just pulled up into the parking spot next to his faded yellow colored older car that was parked in the handicap spot that emptied out right as the path began. As I parked my car, I opened my window just as he was closing his door. With cane in hand, he wasted no time as he took off down the path.
He was a man on a mission who looked like this was part of his daily routine. It was almost like he had someone to see and if he delayed, he might miss them. Sitting there in my car parked next to his, I sat there inspired as he made his way down the path.
“If I make it to that age, I hope..” I sat there thinking to myself.
As I snapped out of my current thought, the man by then was far beyond my line of site as he briskly went about his way.
Rolling up my window, I turned the engine back on and decided to drive a little further down the parking lot towards the river. I’m not sure why I was drawn to this specific park on this day. I just got in my car and drove.
Rather fitting I guess that this was Cathedral Park. I guess I needed a little church. It had already been quite the few weeks. You know, the accident and all.
As I pulled over to the boat launch, I parked my rental car in one of the long parking spots designated for trucks and their boat trailers, got out, and began to walk back towards the park.
It was then when I noticed a homeless man in a wheel chair searching for a cigarette next to the park restrooms.
My heart broke from what seemed liked a mile away as I sat there and looked over towards him. All alone in a wheelchair with a heavy jacket and an oversized knit cap, I wondered when his last moment of sobriety was. It was like I could literally smell the booze from where I stood.
I don’t remember a time when what seemed like a thousand thoughts crossed my mind in a single second. Did he have a family? How did he get to this place in life where he sat all alone? Does anyone know his name? I prayed so.
My mind then shifted back towards “whatever I was there that day for” as I began to make my way back in the direction of the path that wound itself throughout the park and under a large bridge that spanned across the river just to the right of me.
Now back on the asphalt path, I looked up and couldn’t believe my eyes. Through the bright yellow leafed trees that lined the path..
..there he was.
The old man with a cane was making his way towards me. I felt starstruck. The guy was just awesome and inspiring and quite frankly had such a sense of contentment about him. He was one of those people you come across ever so often where you think… whatever he has, I want.
As he quickly moved towards me, I sat there with camera in hand to the very right edge of the pavement and froze as he made his way past me. I wondered if he knew what I was thinking as I turned around and watched as he continued his way down the path.
Wanting now to just let this man be without me stalking him all over the park, I tried to not look obvious and just played “photographer” as I resumed walking towards the bridge.
A few steps later, I paused yet again. Up ahead was a young teenager wearing a red dress posing in front of a park bench for what appeared to be her senior photos.
“Wasn’t it a little cold for that?” I remember thinking.
Not wanting to get in their way, I moved quickly past their photoshoot and randomly found a trail littered with leaves that ran through some trees and out to a small beach on the shore of the river.
It was odd as I stood there just long enough to take some pictures before deciding to head back. Usually, a discovery like this would capture my imagination for a lot longer than that or at least until I read that my camera’s memory was full. (I hate when that happens.)
But instead, there I was in the middle of Cathedral Park and I had no idea why. It was like I was on a mission of some sort and had someone to see. If delayed, I might just miss them. So, I quickly headed back.
Now back on the path and walking towards my car, the photoshoot was on pause as the photographer sat there scanning through photos on their camera while waiting for the subject to finish her phone call.
Moving briskly past them, I heard the teenager in the red dress telling the other person on the phone, “I don’t really like him anymore.”
I remember saying to myself, “I sure hope the photographer was getting paid, even as they waited.”
Moving past them and with my head down, I was deep in thought as I watched my every footstep. I just couldn’t get out of my mind the perceived significance of the two men I had encountered. There was just something about both of them that seemed so peculiar to me. Peculiar in a good way.
As I continued walking, I began to hear the sounds of voices just up ahead. As I looked up, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
There they were.
The old man with a cane was sitting at the far end of a park bench with his hand on his cane and legs crossed. At the opposite end of that same park bench, sat the homeless man in the wheelchair.
Passing by, I could hear the homeless man, as he smoked a cigarette, slurring unintelligible words towards the old man with a cane sitting at the opposite end of the bench. With a brief moment of pause after the homeless man spoke, the old man with a cane actually responded.
“I think it can be whatever you want it to be.” He said in response to who knows what the homeless man had said to him.
I couldn’t believe my ears. They were communicating with one another like they understood every word that was being said.
Continuing on past them, I made it back to the very edge of the park path, then looked back towards them. As I stood there now hidden by the trees that separated us, I couldn’t resist, so I snapped a picture.
Moments later, the old man with a cane rose to his feet, said goodbye, and then made his way back around the park and back to his old faded yellow colored car.
Now back at my rental car, my right hand lightly gripped the driver side door handle as I watched the two men be on their way.
“What just happened?” I thought to myself.
This makes me think..
Everybody needs somebody. You don’t always need to understand the words that are being spoken. In fact, that isn’t even a requirement at all. Perhaps instead, all you need to do.. is to show up.
I don’t know his name, but I was like his 2nd or 3rd customer as he struggled to pump mine and the other customers gas. He stood out to me. I had been going to this gas station for years, but there was something about him.
He was trying so hard, but struggling so much that he was apologetic. I mean, he literally just started working there a few minutes before I arrived.
I remember sitting there wondering what his story was. We all have a story. We just don’t wake up one day experienced.
He seemed to be one that has not lived an easy life.
Seemingly in his mid-forties, he walked with a limp and appeared to me as one who tried hard his entire life to fit in and just be accepted. You could hear it in his apologetic and quite frankly defeated voice.
My heart felt it. My heart felt it in every last word, as if in each, sat the weight of a thousand lifetimes.. or maybe a thousand rejections.
Looking over my shoulder and out the rear passenger side window, he stood there pumping my gas. I told him he was doing fine and that it would be ok and that there was no need to apologize to me. He paused for a second amidst the other cars lined up and seemed shocked that I would even speak to him and tell him such words.
Why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t any of us? Are we just too dang important, too busy, or just too distracted with our technology?
I told him he would do fine and he would be a pro at this in no time. And then words flowed from my mouth that I didn’t expect.
I told him he was a good man.
You would have thought the world stopped at that very moment. The look he gave me I will never forget. The weight of a thousand lifetimes and the stress of that moment seemed to fade away right before my very eyes.
I told him I would see him soon, rolled up my window, and drove off. Tears filled my eyes. I prayed right then and right there that Chevron would give him a chance and that he would make the cut. He just looked like he needed to catch a break and get that chance.
That was a year ago.
I walked into that station this morning. Standing there on a quick break, he looked over at me and said..
“You know what? It’s been a year this month that I started here and you know what Chevron has done for me? It helped me buy my first house.”
He was so proud and if I hadn’t been there when he first started, I would never have recognized him. He was a different man. He seemed confident.
I don’t know him. And this is not about me. This is about him. I don’t know who else may ever tell his story. But dang it, I will.
He’s a good man. He just needed a break and maybe some cheerleaders along the way to cheer him on and tell him that he matters and that he is indeed, a good man.
We all need that from time to time, don’t we?
I know I do.