I'm 6 weeks into a 7-week meditation class. Last week, I made a breakthrough, and reached a place of relative calm with more ease than I ever expected. This week, week 6, after class I met a homeless Vietnam vet at a pizza slice place.
He pulled me out of my practiced aloofness, made a space for me to sit with him at his table. To talk. And talk we did, first, while waiting for our pizza, then, as we ate. I'd planned to take my pizza to go, but something stayed my heart.
He needed to be listened to. To matter.
It was 10 pm. I have to get up early tomorrow, around 5 am, but my middle name is DiversionBoy so an early start isn't much of an excuse.
He needed to be listened to. So I listened.
He told me about the gardening job he'd done for the guy across the street, the food he was given, the agent orange induced cancer and his chemo treatments, he showed me the scars on his belly and the missing fingertips. He told me about the guy who'd given him shit who he'd fucked up by slamming him with the table we sat at. He told me he needed coffee in the morning to get going. He talked to me, all the while his eyes roaming madly, his deportment changing from anger and disgust at some injustice to fawning comraderie and joviality.
A late-night rerun of Oprah came on the pizza place's tube and he told me about respect, not begruging her her riches because, the way he saw it, she did the right things for those in need. He told me about how the neighborhood had changed since its gentrification and he told me about his past in it.
He did this at a dizzying pace, as if he knew his audience was fleeting. As if he knew the cold night would soon wrap its arms around him again, squeeze him when he didn't want to be squeezed, pester him, get under his collar. And there would be no one to comiserate with...not in his doorway, huddled with nothing to keep him warm but the taste of garlic in the back of his throat.
He didn't ask for money. He was too proud for that, or too crafty. I pulled out a 5 and a 1, palmed it to him as I shook goodbye and made my way to the coffee shop around the corner...it was now 10:30, so I bought a medium-sized latte that cost half as much as I had just given him. It was smooth and warm -- they have the absolute best coffee here -- and the cups and straws and "plasticware" is all biodegradable in deference to the planet. But I didn't feel good this evening. Not this time, as I powered up my laptop and began working on the novel. Sometimes, perspective can be a bitch.