Yesterday I got off of work after working from 10pm until 2pm the next day. I was tired and I was frustrated and wanted nothing more than to go home and crawl into bed and forget the world.
I was walking to my car and noticed a man in his mid forties standing next to the smoking area. I do not want to say it was obvious but the personal affairs of this man seemed to be one of someone who lived in a radically different reality than myself. So I approached the man.
“How are you doing today sir?” “Oh, I’m ok, just trying to make it to Louisville. I would walk it but my feet are killing me from walking twenty miles from Madison yesterday.”
My suspicions gained more ground. I believed this man was what he later reffered to as “a traveller” or what most would refer to as a drifter. I liked his label much more as I have recently wondered what such a life must be like and never thought of it in a negative light but as a free and empowering idea. Oppurtunity to go where the wind takes you, not tied down by the responsibility of a conventional job, being completely and solely reliant on your ability to survive not in a forest of trees and streams but in a forest of concrete and asphalt.
I told the man that I needed to go to the pawn shop to pick up my TV which was in the closest city, closer to Louisville. I suddenly realized that I had once been very close to his situation in which utility, or being resourceful, was necessary to accomplish my goals. I had relied on the public transit system in Louisville and there was indeed a bus that ran very close to the pawn shop.
After sitting on hold for ten minutes and learning more about this most interesting soul while conversing to The rolling stones(amazing “on hold” music, mind you) I learned and shared a great deal with the man I came to know as Shawn. We ended up figuring out that the route and time hadn’t changed since eight years earlier when I had last made use of the bus route.
We jumped in the car and covered the five miles to the pawn shop while I explained that I had pawned my television for gas money to visit my parents who lived WAY out in the middle of nowhere. Shawn helped load the television into the car, we grabbed some cheap burritos from a close by fast food restraunt and headed over to the bus stop.
The bus stop was at a park, or rather a run route. There was a nice gazebo that we sat at for the next three hours while we talked about everything from the societal disconnect from reality that has ushered in a war on compassion to genetically modified food and how banks are ruining our food, not to mention everything else, to God and our history involving god. We both talked extensively about ourselves as well, explaining the chain of events that eventually led to our meeting.
We were both exhausted and I contemplated leaving to go to bed several times but decided I would stay for several reasons. Had the bus not come I would have gladly taken the twenty mile trip to help out such a kind, intelligent and down to earth individual. I knew that this transit system wasn’t completely reliable seeing as it had failed me in the past. Also, the area we were in was very “ritzy” and the last thing I wanted was for some precocious teenager that was utilizing the public area to give Shawn any trouble. most of all though, the intrigue was so striking that I felt drawn to him.
I saved shawns story for the end of this tale because it was one that touched me and drove me to want to keep in touch with the man that had no ties to anything. Shawn grew up in Chicago. Travelling is his life and from what I could discern, it has been for long enough that it really IS him and not just a situation in which he is in. Shawn has no living relatives, no family, no one to confide in and no support system what so ever, he relies completely on himself for his physical, mental and emotional well being.
He was travelling to Louisville from Colombus, Ohio. That is a very long way to travel with no money. Even more impressive is that this man hasn’t just traveled back and forth from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. He lived in Las Vegas a little less than ten years ago. While there he travelled from Reno to Vegas and visa versa a few times. If you are unfamiliar with that route, there is NOTHING, not a city, not a tree and hardly anything living for HUNDREDS of miles. Just sand and asphalt. To me, an impossible journey, to Shawn it was hard, annoying, not something he would want to do again but something he would if he must and he knew how, what he would have to have to survive the journey.
Shawn stayed for a few months here and there, almost exclusively in large cities where welfare for the poor or homeless is more structured and much better funded. When asked about the shelters he stayed in he replied very non-chalantly, as this is his reality and nothing about it seems radical or far fetched for the man living in what much of society would see as being “hit rock bottom,” he said, “It’s not too bad, some of them are like a lodge and then there are ones, like in Los Angeles that are run down, full of drugs and places that you just stay away from.”
In his vest pockets and his small bag that was a shoulder carry bag that couldn’t hold much, he claimed he had everything you would need to survive. Bandages and ice packs seemed to be his prized possessions. No smart phone, Ipad, no keys to a car or certificate, no jewelry or membership cards not even a snack. Those things would all be useless in shawns eyes. He had his rolled cigarettes, two bottles of water, his vest and the clothes on his back and what little he could fit in his bag. Seemingly, perfectly content, while admittedly exhausted.
The day before Shawn had walked from Madison, Indiana to what we eventually figured out was Carrolton, Ky. The man had no idea that had he walked the completely opposite direction that he would have made it to clarksville which is right across the river from Louisville. Both cities have buses that run back and forth. Regardless of his unknown setback he chalked the walk up to a tired day in which few offered to acknowledge his existence and many had made it a point to be an obstacle in his path for no justifiable reason, he was a bus ride away from his destination where he was unsure whether or not he would have a place to lay his head.
When we sat down to eat I asked him a question, unsure what that question was now because I realized I was interrupting his prayer. After realizing that my actions were, in my eyes, rude I bowed my head and listened to shawns prayer. A prayer very similar to the prayer that my Biological fathers family would recite before we would have a meal together.
“Dear god, thank you for this food. May you bless it and allow it to nourish our bodies and bring us good health. Thank you for your wisdom and your grace and thank you for all that you have given us. Thank you for this day. In the name of the son, Mary and the father I pray, amen.”
We ate. Thankful.
After a moment of taking in the prayer, eating with a gratitude that is not normally felt when I have a meal, I apologized for interrupting his prayer.
Dismissive toward my remorse, Shawn turned the feelings of regret into curiosity. “I pray before every meal. You have to have god with you. He is everywhere and he is the only person you need. Well, and Jesus and Mary.” I assume his faith stems from Catholicism, as the Protestant religions I grew up with do not place much importance on Mary past being Jesus mother which somehow seems to hold no more importance than being a miracle that she was given Jesus as a virgin.
As we were talking about our history with God and religion we became deeply embedded in the conversation, there was simply nothing else in the world going on. Two men, brought together by chance, or destiny if you will, sitting in a gazebo on a Friday afternoon sharing our stories. Both admittedly and reapetedly proclaiming our exhaustion.
So embedded in our own little universe that it could only be said that God himself pulled me just enough out of the conversation to realize that disaster would soon strike if I didn’t act. In a panic, almost falling over I shouted. “THE BUS!” Haha, you like what I did there?
Shawn jumped up, thanked me for everything, wished me luck and signed off with, “God bless you.”
A deep sinking feeling came over me! “WAIT!” My SOUL wanted to scream out but it would have been in vain As he was already on the bus. I wanted to give shawn a way to contact me and let me know how things were going and what he was doing. I suppose that’s just not what was meant to be nor in line with shawn’s reality or habit.
I took away from this encounter a renewed curiosity about the people around me. I know I could never live shawns life or identify with him completely but for a few hours on a cloudless, beautiful day in April I stepped into a world that was previously unknown to me and met one of the most interesting and sincere people have had the pleasure of spending time with.