I only saw him only once. Sitting cross-legged on the concrete abutment as I was coming down the ramp off the highway. He was not one of the regulars holding up a piece of ragged brown cardboard with anything will help scrawled in black uneven letters that greeted us each morning as we drove into the city. He looked like Jesus. Oh, not the Hollywood version of the man from Nazareth, beard trimmed, just washed hair, without the forelocks, clean flowing robes, leather Italian sandals. Although in all fairness to Hollywood, they were not the only ones who get the likeness wrong. This person could have been the same age. He could have been two thousand years old, a displaced itinerant with nowhere to lay his head. His clothes are oversized, old, worn. Scrapes from a basket. I cannot describe what he was wearing. I see only his face, and those hands. A real person. Simply sitting there. I wanted to look and not look.
A few days before another man with a scruffy brown beard stood at this same place in a rain, covered in a dark trash bag from head to toe, its top torn like a hoodie to cover a beat-up baseball cap, his beard soaked as he peers out of his makeshift body bag. He stands without moving, only his sign and his eyes beseeching. It always makes me sad, and not a little guilty, as I drive past. I have my own near homeless and struggling family members to care for I console 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. The question written in ghost-marker on that remnant of cardboard where were you…The question scrawled across my consciousness?
Today the man who greeted us on our way to work 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 wanted to look and not look. I assume it makes it more difficult for both of us. But the stillness of this gentleman, so quiet I kept my gaze upon him to see if he moved at all. He didn’t. It was even hard to tell if he was breathing. He appeared to be one of those art sculptures, encamped in our public spaces. But when the light changed and I drove past his eyes followed me. A painting whose eyes follow you as you move 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 forward at the green light. What was he waiting for?
One of the first live theater productions I ever saw was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Beckett’s two-act play is simply a conversation of an evening that takes place while two vagabonds wait for someone named Godot to come. In the process they carry on a dialogue that wanes and waxes theological/philosophical. Eventually a young boy appears and tells them that Godot is not coming. They ask the boy if Godot has ever come at all. There is no answer to this question. So ends the play as the two go off to find shelter for the night.
What was he waiting for? There was nothing remotely meditative about the city scenery blogged with construction and detour signs. Perhaps he too was waiting for Godot? The diversion of anonymous passersby? For me he was a reminder, a reminder and a challenge as I drive past on my way to toil in Pharaoh’s glass pyramid, then hurry back through interminable slow moving traffic to a gated communities in the ‘burbs. He was simply being. Being there. Waiting to wake us from our benumbed commute. Wanting to remind us we are Godot.