The first time I saw him I was coming down the ramp off the highway. He wasn’t the usual homeless man who sat on the concrete abutment holding up a piece of ragged brown cardboard with anything will help scrawled in black letters. A few days before the man with the ragged brown beard had been standing there in the cold and rain, decked out in a black trash bag from head to toe, its torn top like a hoodie covering an old cap, his beard-wet face peering out of a body bag. It always makes me sad, and not a little guilty, as I drove past, his eyes following me. I had my own near-homeless and struggling family members to care for I consoled myself. But there was something haunting in that face that haunts me still. Perhaps because in some way it was familiar, a not-so-cleaned-up version of the holy card man. And, of course, his words where were you when I was homeless scrawled on my consciousness.
Today the man who was sitting there was younger, tangled hair to his shoulders, unkempt beard, looking like he had just risen from a palette of rags. As I waited for the light to change I notice he wasn’t moving. I don’t try to make eye contact. I assume it makes it more difficult for both of us. But the stillness of this gentleman, and he did somehow appear to be gentle, so quiet I kept my gaze upon him to see if he moved at all. Was breathing. It was hard to tell. He appeared to be one of those art sculptures, a metaphor sitting out in a public place. But when the light changed and I drove past his eyes followed me. Like a painting you walk around and the eyes seem to follow you about the gallery, his eyes made its way into my soul. What was curious though was that he held no sign. He held no cup. His hands were resting, one easily cupped atop the other, his gaze distant yet piercing as I eased my way into the turn.
He looked like Jesus. Not a Hollywood Jesus, with trimmed beard, just washed hair, clean flowing robes, leather Italian sandals. He could have been the same age. He could have been two thousand years later the same iterant rambling man with nowhere to lay his head. His clothes were old, worn, non-descript. I cannot describe what he was wearing. My memory holds only his face, and those hands. A real person. A presence.
What was he waiting for? Godot? The diversion of anonymous passersby? Or reminders, just as he is reminder to us as we hurry past on our way to the Pharaoh’s glass pyramids where we toil during the day, hurrying through interminable slowly moving traffic to our gated communities in the ‘burbs. Waiting. Simply being. Being there. Waiting to wake us from our benumbed commute. A reminder, the bridegroom is no longer with us.