Saturday, November 20, 2010
There are so many opportunities to bless people, but when do you ever see a person bless a stranger? So many times in our world, we pass a lost soul or a person just wanting to be talked to. You don't have to see someone hold a cardboard sign in fingerless gloves to know when someone is lonely. However, who is really the lonely one? Does a man lost in his career and agenda who goes to bed at night panicked about tomorrow really live the good life or does a man who has nothing and can barely find the money to eat really appreciate life? A man dressed in expensive black business clothes sits down to talk to a friend and discusses politics, where their kids are going to college, the economy, the latest news coverage, the ridiculous amount of money spent on a certain government structure, and so on. A middle-aged homeless man sits next to me on the bench outside Starbucks and leans over to me and says, "You guys smoke?" "No, we don't." "Well That's good, it's bad for your health." My friend and I were sitting on the bench next to him with a sign that read, "Take some free change for some coffee!" We had a can full of quarters and nickels sitting there for people to take with no expectations of reciprocity but to simply bless someone. Several people driving very expensive cars walked by us without even glancing at the sign, because they most likely assumed we were begging for money. We were dressed in casual clothes sitting outside in the cold. Not a single person looked at our sign up to this point, discouraging me quite a bit. I looked to my left to see three homeless men talking about life. "So, how's your dog, man?" "He's doing great, he is healthy and happy." "That's great to hear, how are you?" "I'm doing great, just sat in a warm restaurant for quite a while and I'm good to go for the night." "Cool man". This conversation went on and on. Several minutes later, the older gentleman acknowledged me and I looked to him. He asked, "so what are you two young guys doing sitting out here if you don't smoke?" My friend replied, "We're just giving out free change to people for coffee to help them out." The eccentric homeless man began to talk about how there must be hidden cameras somewhere and that there was a reason as to why we were doing what we were doing. In his eyes, we are two spoiled rotten rich kids who would have no reason to selflessly give money to another person without receiving something in return. I changed the subject and asked him, "Where are you from, man?" "Right here," he replied. "I'm from right here on the streets... And I'm livin' comfortably for sure! I don't know how those guys back east do it! They must freeze to death!" I had to hold back my tears as I was experiencing this man who had a bag, a dog, and a bicycle explain to me how grateful he was to live in a place that is warm enough for him to stay alive at night. I'm concerned that my midterm grades aren't all 100% grades and this man is telling me he is thankful to be alive. The three men began to talk again about various things quietly on their bench away from everyone outside in the cold. Then, a man who was much older than the other two men walked up to us and read our sign with a little bit of trouble. "Take...some... free change for...coffee. So what you're sayin' is... You'd buy ME a cup of coffee for no charge?" "Yeah, of course, do you want one?" He had a look of disbelief on his face. "Uh, yeah, I'd love some coffee, man ha!" We walked into Starbucks with him and I walked up to the counter. "What can I get started for you?" the barista asked me. "What do you want, man?" "HA! Just some kind of coffee the moon ain't gonna shine through. Black coffee." I went to hand the woman my money and she motioned to me that it was no charge. Good deeds are contagious, period. The man was speechless for a few moments and then just began to laugh. "Man, you guys are nice guys. I haven't had a good cup of coffee in so long." "It's no problem man, glad to help out," I replied. We went back outside and sat back down on the bench. After talking for quite a long time, the man said, "Name's Martin, like Martian without the A, hahaha, what's your guys' names?" We introduced ourselves and continued talking about random things that he would bring up. He suddenly got serious. "You guys wanna know something? About 90% of the people in the world are good. The other 10% are bad and they need to stay where they are. You are good people. You guys are doing things that I've never seen." He paused for a few moments. "I want to say something very...good. I want to tell you something..." He paused again and got a very serious look on his weathered face. "Thank you." No words have felt so sincere in my ears in my entire life. A grateful heart came to me in the most unexpected way possible and Martin blessed me far more than my cup of coffee blessed him. My Iphone buzzed in my pocket as I realized that to talk to my loved ones, all I have to do is press a button. Martin has to walk for miles to see the people he cares about and the entire time he is walking, people think negatively of him just for appearing and living the way he does. There is no greater reward than to bless a person who is in need of love. Martin APPRECIATES me and my friend's tiny kind deed. He is thankful in this thanksgiving season... are you?
Thursday, September 16, 2010
3. The Grove
September ended and fall came around at its usual pace. I can’t tell you how much I loved fall growing up. The air was so crisp and the leaves were crunchy. Luke and I used to make huge piles of gold and red oak leaves and jump into them off the highest possible branches of the oak tree. It always still hurt a little bit when we jumped from that high. I suppose that’s why they don’t make pillows and mattresses out of leaves. This fall was like every other fall. School was in full swing already, the house began to smell like fall spices from all the desserts and foods my mom and grandma would make, and the weather of course began to get dreary and bleak as it always did in Washington State.
I was walking to the school bus stop one morning but something was different about this particular morning. It began to snow, but the snowflakes weren’t flakes at all. They were little pellet-like snowdrops that accumulated fast on the ground, because the whole ground was already covered in frost. I merely walked to the bus stop as a formality, knowing school would be cancelled anyways. One or two inches had accumulated in a matter of fifteen minutes as I slid around on the hill with my ratty old shoes that lacked rubber on the sole, making them perfect for doing so. It was a foreshadowing of that very cold winter to come.
Just as I had suspected, the bus never came and I started back down the slippery hill to my house. I looked to my right, looking at the biggest house in the neighborhood. It had a huge balcony that wrapped around the whole third story. The high balcony had a fantastic view of the snow-capped mountains that seemed nearly level with their house. Halloween was just a few days away and I got a very eerie feeling as I walked past that huge house. I looked at the banister and there was a rope hanging off of it, pulled tight by some object tied to the end of it. I couldn’t see what was attached to the rope so I hiked back up the hill to get a better view. After slipping and sliding around, I got to the base of their driveway only to see the most morbid and frightening thing I’d ever seen in my life. A man was hanging lifelessly from that rope. I stared at him for what must have been a good minute and a half, completely bewildered. I had a hard time believing it was real at first, seeing as how Halloween was just around the corner and it didn’t seem too unusual to hang a dummy from your porch as a morbid way to celebrate. I’ve never felt my heart pound that hard and I’ve never felt nauseous just from seeing something, until that morning. Time stopped. The snow no longer felt cold on my face and the wind no longer made a whistling sound as it passed my ears. Everything in the universe disappeared as I stared at that man’s limp body. Suddenly, a old Buick pulled into the driveway and three people ran out of the car screaming and crying frantically. This was the moment when I realized I had witnessed this man’s death. I began sobbing, because I realized who the man was. It was the father of the family that lived there. They had seven children from ages 5 to 25. He was a hard-working man who built that huge house with his bare hands. I didn’t know what suicide was at that tender age, so I assumed he was murdered and I was suddenly afraid. I didn’t know what to feel. I felt terrified that a dead man was dangling in my neighborhood, while I felt extreme grief that a father and husband and grandfather had left his family. I finally went numb with confusion as I walked home slowly, unsure of what to do or think. I ran inside and told my mom what had happened and she didn’t know what to say, as usual.
“Mom… the Russian dad is dead.” I said unsurely
“What?! What happened? Who told you?” she frantically asked.
“I saw him! He was hanging off the railing on a rope! It was around his neck and he was just hanging there!” I said in an even more frantic manner than she asked me.
My mom didn’t say anything after that. She just wrapped her arms around me and cried for what seemed like an eternity. I hated it when my mom cried, because she was so strong that if she was crying, then that means something truly was wrong. I was so confused as to why he was dead, that my emotions went completely dead for the next few weeks. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t laugh, didn’t want to talk about anything important, because I didn’t want that topic to ever come up again. That was the time I visited the grove for the first time. I would close my eyes and picture myself in the most perfect place I could imagine. I could practically feel the warm breeze on my face and through my hair. Most importantly, it wasn’t snowing in the grove, because snow reminded me of that terrible day. Nothing represented death in that place. The real world was ticking on as usual and I wanted to scream, because nobody seemed to care after the funeral that this family had lost their dad. Time kept moving and he was forgotten as another family moved into the house that he built from the bottom up. The home that he built for his family was bought by a rich couple that didn’t even have kids. I don’t know where the Russian family moved to, but when I looked at that banister, I couldn’t help but think about the incredible irony of the situation before I even know what irony was. This man had spent his whole life building. He built his family, his reputation, and his own home. I wanted answers, but people only gave me answers that they thought a baby would understand. They would say, “Some people just die” or “he must have been selfish” or “he didn’t love himself enough”. These answers didn’t satisfy me and I would continuously escape to the grove in my subconscious to create my own answers. When the image of him dangling there dead kept me awake at night, I would take that man to the grove with me and ask him why he did it. Even in my subconscious thoughts, he had a thick Russian accent. I asked him, “Sir, why did you kill yourself?” I was frustrated that his response would always be a combination of all the things people would tell me. My mind couldn’t imagine any answer better than the ones they had given me. I would run my hands along the tops of the tall grass and just listen to the wind blow through it, rustling and flowing to create that beautiful white noise. A bird would sing to me and then suddenly I would forget about my scarring experience. I would forget that the world is a sad place, because there was nobody there but my dog and I. The oak tree never complained that the wind was bending his branches and blowing off his leaves. That is where I would escape from the inexplicable, because as far as I was concerned, the real world didn’t make much sense sometimes.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
2. Stinky Friend
I have other friends besides Luke, you know. I just like him the best. Some friends you just have to be friends with because you have to be. My friend Lawrence was a nice guy and everything, but he was always coughing. He smelled like smoke too, because he lived in a hotel. It wasn’t a cool hotel like when my family goes to Disneyland. It was more like the hotels that are along the freeway in not very nice areas. The lobby smelled like smoke and the outside of the hotel was bright yellow. My mom always talked about how ugly the paint color was, but I always tried to stick up for the place a little bit. I don’t like when people talk about things in a bad way all the time. He always liked coming over to my house, but he smelled so bad. My mom always says that I need to bring him over more often, because I think she feels sorry for him. My mom is always too nice. I swear, I could break her favorite coffee table and she would just say, “Oh, it’s okay. It’s just a table.” Sometimes I wish that she would get mad just one time, just so I could see what it would be like.
“Hey Ty, can I spend the night tonight?” Lawrence asked.
“Yeah, my mom said you can come over anytime dude.”
“Cool, I will be over in a few hours.”
That day was seriously scary weather. I love storms, but this one was shaking the house and the lights were flickering. Everything was whistling outside and stuff was flying past the windows all afternoon. Lawrence knocked on the door of my big, white, three-story house. I could hear him walking up the long gravel driveway, so there really wasn’t any reason for him to knock. My mom opened it and said, “Oh my gosh, Lawrence, you’re soaking wet! Tyler can give you some dry clothes. Who dropped you off?” She looked out the window to try and see if a car was pulling out of the driveway.
“I walked here,” he said bluntly.
“You walked…?” my mom inquired nervously. “That’s ten miles, Lawrence. We would have come and picked you up if you needed a ride!”
“Thanks, but my mom said if I wanted to come over that I would have to walk. She doesn’t want me to accept handouts from people.”
I could tell my mom didn’t know what to say, because she sort of just stuttered out a few words,
“Well…okay…I…Tyler, go grab some clothes for him,” my mom commanded.
Lawrence was a lot shorter than me. He had lightning-blonde hair just like me, but he was always really pale. Even at age ten, he had a lot of acne and really greasy hair. I didn’t like to hug him too much, because then I kind of started to smell like he did. I always wondered if he spent a few days at my house, if he’d start to smell like me.
1. Big Friend
The funny thing about being a boy growing up in the country, is that no matter how many times I wash my feet, they always seem to be black. I went downstairs to eat my eggs before school, but as soon as my mom saw my feet, she gave me that look she always gives me that basically means, “go upstairs and wash those feet so I’m not embarrassed to call you my son”. She was so sensitive about my bruises too. Every single time I had a bruise on my leg or arm, she would say with a nag, “People are gonna think your parents beat you if they see those bruises Tyler!” What a silly thing to think! I’m not even five feet tall yet, so if my pops was gonna bruise me, how could he reach my legs? Nobody ever gets bruises on their head either. My mom said I’m just growing into my feet and that’s why I trip all the time, but I trip a lot. I don’t know if I trip more than normal guys, but I sure do fall on my wood stairs a lot. I know my feet are growing really fast, because my mom takes me to buy new shoes all the time. I like high-top All Stars the best, because I can run and they dry out fast when I get ‘em muddy.
The worst part about being a kid is definitely going to school. My teacher is such a dummy. She thinks I’m so smart, because every time we play heads-up seven-up, I look at their shoes so I never lose. She told my parents that I’m very smart for a 3rd grader. I like to talk a lot and tell people about my summer. Maybe even after Christmas, I will tell people about my winter too. Wanna know how to be the coolest kid at school? You have to have a big friend. I have a big friend named Luke. He is twice my size! My mom said we should just adopt him, but I like to sleep on the top and bottom bunk depending on the day, so I’d have to sleep on the top all the time if he moved in. The best part about having a big friend is definitely the safety. I get to say anything I want when Luke is around and nobody does anything. The truth is, he would never hurt a fly, but nobody else knows that. One time, we were riding our bikes in the summer by the swamp and this big momma goose came out of the bushes and even though Luke was there, it hissed at us and chased us all the way down the road! I’m not even lying about that, either! He is afraid of girls, but I always try to make him say hi to them. This one girl, Sam, is way cooler than the other girls. At recess, she comes over to me when I’m standing in line for tether- ball and talks to me about stuff. Sometimes I hold her hand, but I don’t like to. If you start holding their hand, then they want to be your girlfriend. Then, everyone will make fun of you. Luke always played on the playground with the other big guys. I don’t know how he runs with his big shoes that he never ties. I always double-knot my shoes on the porch before I get on the bus. School is fun sometimes though. I like my PE teacher a lot. He makes us do stretches before class, but I love playing kick ball. When I wear my high-tops, I always kick home runs. They all know I’m good too, because when I get up to kick, everyone scoots way back. I think it’s because I always kick my foot in the dirt and make a little hole with the toe of my shoe before I kick and that really intimidates them all. I take it really seriously, because kids just think they can stand around when they’re playing games, but if you want to win, you have to try hard. When I’m at school, I usually just hang out with Luke. We eat lunch together, sit next to each other in class, and wait for the bus together. When we are allowed to talk in class, we just talk about our fort that we’re building. Nobody else knows about it, not even my parents. There is this part of the forest by my house that has big trees that are perfect for building a fort.
The soft earth was warm beneath my bare feet. I could hear my favorite sound in world; the soft rustling of the wind through the grass. I walked slowly down the path on the warm summer day, running my hands along the tops of the grass that always stayed soft and green close to the creek. My favorite oak tree was faithfully waiting for me to lean up against it. My cocker spaniel always walked right behind my feet loyally. I was the king of everything in this meadow and it was a beautiful country indeed. Being nine years old, I didn’t rule with an iron fist. My subjects were the beautiful purple wildflowers, the birds that sang me songs in my court, my dog, and of course the trout that I was always eager to catch with my makeshift fishing pole. No other people ever came into my grove unless I invited them. No government had ownership of it, no army had ever conquered it, and most importantly, it was always summer in my grove. This place was heaven on earth. There was no sadness, no dispute, no rules, and no disappointment. This was a place that I could always escape to, no matter what. Nothing and nobody could follow me here, except my dog. The reason he could come was because like most dogs, he couldn’t talk. He never told me what was wrong with the world, never complained, never gave me advice, he just simply followed my lead and listened intently to me. I never said much in the grove. There wasn’t much to say, because all the residents knew of its obvious beauty and peace. There was no need to say, “My, what a beautiful day!” because everyday is a beautiful day in the grove. The sun never sets, and never goes behind a cloud to prevent the warmth from reaching my face.