I often drive to the ocean (which surrounds Brooklyn) to sit and meditate, to brood, to seek inspiration or healing. Everyone has their individual place that is that kind of source for them. For some people it’s the mountains and for others it’s the forests, but for me it has always been the ocean where I’ve found my spirits restored.
On this particular day, I came to brood. I had just asked my husband for a small sum of money to go food shopping, and he shrugged and told me there was none. I had just given him the small advance I had gotten for “Small Miracles From Beyond” and was shocked to learn that it was already gone. My husband has been unemployed for some time, and while my heart almost always goes out to him, sometimes I get mad that he isn’t trying. This was one of those days.
So I was sitting on a bench, brooding about life’s unfairness, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a homeless man with a long, scraggly white beard scavenging through the garbage cans scattered throughout the plaza that abuts the sea. There was still nip in the air and everyone else was tightly bundled up in jackets and scarves, but he wore only an undershirt and shorts several sizes too large engulfing his emaciated frame. A battered suitcase–which probably held all his earthly possessions–stood nearby. I felt pained by his plight and watched as he pulled out a large bag of potato chips from one of the trash bins, and ate hungrily. He seemed ravished.
Then I watched, astonished, as he stopped eating, considered the flocks of pigeons, birds and sea gulls assembled on the plaza, walked to where they were clustered, and scattered the rest of the potato chips on the sidewalk in front of them. I could not believe what I had seen. The crumbs glinted on the sidewalk like shards of light.
“Sharing is heaven,” he proclaimed with a luminous grin that revealed all his missing teeth. “Not sharing is hell.”
I stared at him, stunned. “May God bless you,” I said effusively.”God bless you.”
“Oh, He has, Ma’am,” he said with fervor and a vigorous shake of his head for emphasis. “He has.”
Then he picked up the handle of his battered suitcase, and started walking rapidly, zig-zagging across the walkway as he checked out each trash can and then continued on.
So I tried to race after his retreating figure, but he was surprisingly swift and was already several hundred yards away from where he had originally stood. I continued streaking after him, and people must have thought it strange to see an overweight, middle-aged woman frantically pursuing a member of the “underclass.”
“Sir! Sir!” I yelled when I was finally a few feet away. I pulled out my fifteen dollars. “Can I treat you to your next meal?”
His eyes glowed. “Yes, you can!” he smiled beatifically. “Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.”
And then, he picked up the handle of his suitcase again and continued his rapid pace to no-where and no-one, a tiny speck quickly receding into the distance, a man who had just illumined my consciousness for a brief moment in eternity.
That night, a man called my husband to tell him that he had owed him a fairly large sum of money for many years, and was planning to return it this week. Somehow I felt the intersection of these two events was not an accident, but my husband says I am merely being fanciful.
But if you ask me, I think I met a saint that day wearing the disguise of a homeless man, and because I was blessed to see beneath his tatters, I received a life-lesson that will remain with me forever. I also believe that when I gave him all the money I had, the Gates of Heaven were pried open …by this man’s sledgehammer, not mine.