It was a busy, noisy street corner as usual. But what a day! You just had to be out there taking it all in. Like the rest of the winter weary masses, I was basking in bright sunshine, oblivious to anything else, hopeful that the long cruel winter was finally over. And because I was distracted by bliss, I might have easily missed him...if I hadn't had to stop at the pedestrian traffic light.
Then I heard rather than saw him...a mumble...a sigh...?
I turned around. I had walked right by a street guy in a wheelchair. Glancing back, I saw him more clearly. It was tough to guess his age. A street person, perhaps, yes, but he had a youngish kind of look to him, an almost scholarly appearance with unruly bright rusty hair and wire frame glasses.
If not for that bulky parka that appeared to be elaborately held together with reams of duct tape and if not for the fact that his legs seemed to be so thin, blanketed and bound tightly by a bungee cord to keep him secure in his wheel chair, he might have been a student waiting to get on the University bus.
There are numerous street people in my neighbourhood, but it was the first time I had seen him. I asked him about himself. He said he had been in Vancouver, and his name was Larry.
But more than anything about him, it was the waterstained sign at his feet that held me riveted. I put my recyclable grocery bags down next to him and read it aloud:
Poetry on the Spot
A wordsmith...a street person...his rough cap on the ground almost resembled some of the garbage blowing around on the windy streets. It was an otherworldly kind of moment somehow. Street sounds around us seemed to disappear.
"What do you do?" I asked. He had a right to look at me at that moment like I was not too clued in.
"Write poetry about anything...on the spot..."
"Just pick a subject...I'll write it," he said.
I took the bait and named a subject: FAITH.
Pulling a ratty notebook out from inside his coat, his hands rough but elegant somehow...he began writing in an easy print-style scrawl:
We all believe in something.
It is impossible to believe in nothing.
What we believe determines what we perceive
Concerning everything we
I believe in the Cross.
I believe there is one path
For the lost to come to God.
It is through faith
And that by Christ's blood
Regardless of sex or race or anything else that divides.
It is by grace through faith in Christ
That we obtain that free gift
Which is not by works
So that none can boast.
And what IS that gift? FAITH
In a matter of a few short moments, Larry had written me a poem, and when I asked if I could keep it...he looked at me surprised.
"You paid for it." Earlier, I had put a bill in his hat.
"But I could write on and on about this," he said quietly, as if to suggest I might be mad not to stick around and get my money's worth.
My heart went out to this man. I wondered where he had been, what had brought him here...then I mentioned a church I attend and that he would be most welcome to join us at an evening coffee house, and I left...with prayers for God to look after Larry, and his poem on a ruled sheet of paper stuffed hurriedly into my handbag.
It was only when I got home and reread the poem that I realized how very simple, direct and profound it was.
I was humbled...I hadn't really expected this...
Larry, The Poetry on the Spot Guy had expressed in a few short seconds what some people can't express in a lifetime.
I wonder if I'll run into him again. I'd like to hear his take on a few more subjects, let's say another simple one...maybe LIFE...or LOVE...or HAPPINESS...
Why is it that I think those might come easy for Larry? Easy not because of the subject matter, far from it...but because of his perception, because of what life has taught Larry that I think it might do me good to hear. A guy I might just as easily have ignored and passed by, without a second glance or thought.