An Unlikely Hero

“There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.”~John Cage

One month ago today, I wrote my first blog. With every post I have written, I remain surprised and humbled by the responses I have received. For someone who often has felt as if my voice is not heard, I still cannot wrap my brain around the fact that people who know me, much less strangers, take the time to read what happens to come to my mind on any given day. Pretty heady stuff for this girl indeed! By the way, whenever I see that someone in Canada has read my blog, I tell myself that it is a collective viewing by Rush. I told you that I dream big . . .

Various people have said I am “brave” for writing this blog, which always gives me pause, as I am anything but brave. I hide in plain sight when I write, and the computer screen is my modern day shield. I am not brave, but I am so very fortunate to tell you about a writer who truly is brave and deserves all the respect and admiration in the world.

One of my favorite aspects of my job at the day shelter for homeless men is when I take an hour to do “floor duty”. This can include such tasks as doing laundry, sorting mail, straightening up around the shelter, and, most importantly, interacting with the men who are there. It is a chance to answer their questions, listen to their concerns, assess their needs, offer a word of support or advice, and simply be present for them. Last Friday, I noticed an older gentleman happily and busily writing in a notebook, and when I passed by him, I stopped to inquire about his writing. I had no idea I was about to meet someone I now regard as one of my personal heroes.

The writer put aside his writing when I greeted him, and he gave me a huge smile and an earful about his work. He explained that he was putting the finishing touches on two poems he planned to recite the following evening at a showcase for people who are homeless. He was excited and nervous, as this was the first time he would be reading his work in public. I commented that reciting one’s own poetry is more than just sharing words, as it is exposing your heart and soul to the world and being vulnerable, and I told him how much I admired him for his courage to share himself with others. He smiled and said, “You’re a writer, aren’t you? It takes one to know one.” I told him that while I enjoy writing that I do not consider myself a writer, especially after what transpired next. We ended our conversation with me wishing him luck and asking him to let me know how his recitation went.

As soon as I arrived at work yesterday, my hero greeted me warmly and proudly told me how nervous he was to read the two poems, but he did it and looked forward to doing it again this fall. He told me that while he did not win the $50 prize, he did “receive some claps, which felt really good”.  I told him that sharing his poems made him a winner and congratulated him, and he asked if I would critique his work sometime. I was honored that he would share his collection of poems with me, and later that day, I found a black binder on the chair in my office. Inside of this non-descript binder, there was a collection of the most hauntingly beautiful poems spanning a twenty year period. Each poem was carefully placed in a plastic protector inside the binder, and some were well worn and stained. He had made sure to tell me that the papers were not dirty, but they appeared smudged, as he had saved them from a fire. In addition to bearing the stains of smoke and ash, I suspect that they were stained with many tears long since dried, yet still present.  After reading his poems, I know that saving those poems from the fire was more than saving his work; he saved himself.

His writing was achingly raw, honest, and real, and I immediately began to cry as I read poem after poem. Each one was unique, and there were recurrent themes of feeling sad and alone, welcoming death to escape the pain, clinging to hope, mourning friends who abandon you, wanting to be loved, and spirituality. I shed tears for this dear man whose writing revealed the depths of his pain and vulnerability, and I also selfishly shed tears for myself, as I related to him on so many levels. I discovered that two seemingly opposite people shared a similar broken heart and wounded spirit, and it was a poignant reminder that people’s possessions, clothing, outer beauty, etc. are nothing more than window dressing to cover the essence of one’s being. The difference between this kindred spirit and me is that he has faced most of his heartaches and crises on his own without any shelter, literally and figuratively. He has very little, yet he gives his all just to survive day in and day out, year after year. If you have suffered from depression, addiction, mental illness, or any other personal struggle, you know that surviving even just one day can feel like surviving a lifetime. Yet, in the midst of his painful journey, he still has a smile on his face and hope in his heart.  He gingerly offers his poems, almost as a peace offering to his soul and an apology to the world for his past transgressions and perceived failings, in exchange for “some claps” and peace of mind. 

As I type this, the tears begin to fall again, because I am in awe of him and treasure his words.  I missed seeing him today at work, but I was happy to be able to enjoy his poetry for another day before I need to return them to him.  I have no doubt that my hero and I have more words to write, and I hope that one day I can be as brave as he is.

That’s another story . . .

Categories: That's Another Story

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