He was tall, thin, unshaven; he was rough. There was not a lot that was notable about him. He was obviously down on his luck, as they say. His shirt was not dirty, but it was well worn and it was probably the only one he had. His jeans were not as worn as you’d assume they should be for the way his sun beaten face showed the years of abuse the harsh Texas sun had punished him with. It was his shoes that proved this was day one of a new set of thrift shop clothing. His shoes told his story. They matched his creased and worn face.
The coffee shop he wandered into was timidly receiving of him. Immediately upon his entry, the staff took notice and those around looked up from laptops and books, conversations and laughs. The jovial music changed all at once and it seemed even the musical background changed to match his flavor.
It wasn’t so much that he had actually entered the shop, it was the way he did it. They all found it was hard not to watch his conversation, hard to not be curious. No one intended to be rude, but it’s also not every day you see conversations happening like his. He wasn’t rude, or disrespectful. Actually he was the reverse. He waited in line and talked to his partner. He was patient and even jovial.
What unnerved those around him? Surely there’d been those with “less” here before. He couldn’t have been the first. That had nothing to do with it, just trust me. He seemed unaware of this web spinning, the linking of an entire room to his shared experience. He was so deep in conversation, one everyone could hear easily, his toothless grin so wide and his animation so vivid as his hands helped tell the story, it wasn’t even that which made them all take a step aside and stare. It was his friend. It almost wasn’t even about HIM at all.
His friend? I wish I had words to explain him. My guess is they’d been friends, maybe even partners for years. The ease of the conversation, the familiarity, the need to not even finish a sentence before knowing the answer, it was that which bothered everyone. Emphatically he chatted in line and enjoyed the company.
At some point, when most tried to not look or stare, he grabbed a couple sandwiches and a bottle of OJ from the cold case in front of the registers. He didn’t blink at anyone around him, but moved to a seat in the center of the room and looked past everyone as he settled in and unwrapped the first taste of breakfast. He laughed aloud and hit the table in exclamation, covering his mouth then and capturing the crumbs before they exited.
The life long friend was not notable like our lean gentleman. I’d love to paint a picture for you, but maybe the lack of a snapshot is more notable; the complete lack of description. See, this friend, so deeply in conversation with our weary traveler? He was not anywhere to be seen. He clearly was answering in response to the questions asked, following up on remarks; to hear the conversation you’d swear there was an earbud in our gentleman’s ear and that this was a phone call.
It was sad, in a cruel way, yet he was happy. Very happy. His arm waved toward an unseen table mate and he made a grand point. It was almost hard not to laugh with him.
I approached the staff who’d been conversing as to the best way to handle him. They’d allowed him to go uncontested and keep his juice and sandwiches. They’d just have to throw them out anyway. They let him have them and kept watch from a distance. I noted the grace they gave him, the way they didn’t call the cops the first moment he entered. The way they didn’t engage the fantasy, but just ensured the other guests were okay. They gave him time and space.
I thanked them. I commended the way they treated him as a fellow human. We could use more of that in this world.
Mental illness sucks. There’s a mission just down the way. There’s a facility just a bit farther and many who have no resources filter in and out. This isn’t new to them. He may be, but the reality of walking human brokenness isn’t.
As I packed up to leave, I smiled at him. I let the God in me see the God in him. He is loved by my God just as deeply as I am. He’s no less than I. He is tragically fractured. I just feel broken. It’s completely different. I said a prayer of blessing upon his life and asked God to continue to walk beside him and be his healer.
Every person has a story. Each one is worthy to be told. I do not know his, but I saw a page of it and thought I’d pass it along. Share it.
Every single person you pass along the way in your life has a story, a struggle you know nothing about. Be kind. It almost takes no effort at all to pause and breathe, give a little grace, and just #BeKind. Somehow it always comes back to that for me. Kindness.