The Beautiful Strangers
This is a follow up to my other post The Beautiful Interruptions.
This story is made up – made up from a collage of crazy ideas. That’s why I put “Tall Tales” so that people don’t go around thinking this is fact. Like I said before, I like to call these “factions”, part fact, part fiction. What part is true and what’s creative license is for me to know. For those of you who are like me, sometimes a story is the best way to get a thought through.
The Beautiful Strangers
“Do you get your style tips from Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn?” she asked me.
“The slippers and jeans folded up. You look like you stepped out off a Mark Twain novel.”
“Oh. I guess I’m on my own adventure.”
“Aren’t we all? Well you’re Mark Twain from the waist down, average from the waist up.”
I should have let that comment pass. But I didn’t.
“Haha! You’re funny. While we’re in the process of asking strangers personal style questions, I must ask, are you going for the ‘Deli’ look? Because you’re doing a good job of looking like a sausage. Not a very big sausage – but a sausage.”
She looked at me with burning eyes.
I tried to repair the damage.
“A very thin sausage actually. A well-shaped sausage.”
It wasn’t working. So I tried again.
“You know? The ones that are shaped like Coke bottles.”
That interrupted her anger.
“There are sausages shaped like Coke bottles?”
Then she smiled and offered her hand.
“Tom Sawyer, my name is Maria.”
“Hi Bratwurst, my name is David.”
As is usually the case with first impressions I would be proven wrong. Bratwurst would not turn out to be the “worst of brats”. It’s funny how I keep making this mistake. I meet a person, and from the first few meetings, I hold on to an opinion that is corrected with every new encounter. Then it turns out that the guy who had it all together was really crumbling inside, and the pretty lady who actually had brains was also pretty lonely, and the obnoxious jerk turns out to be a most loyal friend. I’m sure there are people out there who think I’m the kindest of saints and those who can’t find a worse devil depending on how and when they met me. We can never really lock people into a single impression. They, like you, and me, are changing, hopefully for the better, but sometimes for the worse, and even that can change again, and we all continue to change and change and change throughout life. I guess that’s why the Good Book, the Best Book, talks of not judging one another, and to leave the figuring out of what someone deserves to God. Instead we’re called to do the harder thing. We’re called to love. And as my dad says, it’s simple, but never easy, as loving means giving and forgiving, and ultimately, it means dying.
Bratwurst and I decided we would be more comfortable sparring seated and over coffee, which I never drink, so she had a latte and I had warm milk.
During the conversation I asked her:
“So. Do you always use style questions to pick up enslippered men?”
“Haha! No. Never actually.”
“It’s nice to know I’m special.”
“You’re very strange, Tom Sawyer. You seem open but are completely locked up.”
“That’s not always a bad thing.” I told her.
“Not at all. But why are you so uptight?”
“That question is a little too deep for me right now. And I’ve only known you for what? An Hour? You’re not allowed to ask these questions.”
“You’ve been asking me crazy questions for most of THAT hour! Don’t you know that we discover ourselves partly through others. You can’t always be a stranger to everyone, because then you’ll always be a stranger to yourself. Someday you’ll have to open yourself, open yourself completely.”
“Right. Very good. In the meantime, can we go get some real food? I’m hungry.”
“You’re not listening.”
But I was. I always do. With every word, every gesture, and every expression etched into my mind, she joined the others in a mixture of fresh and dried frescoes.
My father used to tell my brothers and me that our senses are like cameras recording everything we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. The trick to having a beautiful movie in your mind was to take beautiful footage. “Fill your mind with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Think about such things.” (He got that from Philippians 4:8-9.) Like almost everything else I have disobeyed, I wish I had followed this one fully. Maybe, if I did, things would be even more wonderful then they already are, as my eyes would be more accustomed to recognize the beauty of simple goodness.
Simple goodness found in all sorts of places and situations.
Like the time I met Angelo one March evening. (Or was it morning?) I was on my way to the car after a long long night, when I felt someone looking at me. In the shadows of the building beside me was a man lying flat on the ground with his head tilted and looking at me. I didn’t think much about it at first, but when I was about to cross the street I suddenly felt like talking to him. I wanted to talk to someone, and he sure looked like he needed someone.
So I walked back and sat beside this man on the steps of what is now a restaurant on weekdays, and, if I remember right, what used to be the site of a juice stand my brothers and I used to go to after church. His face seemed surprised but he just lay there. I asked him, “What do you want?”, and that started a conversation that went like this (translated to English for the internationals and shortened for the blog):
Me: What do you want?
Him: Nothing. I wasn’t making fun of you.
Me: I didn’t say you were making fun of me. I was just asking you if you want anything.
Me: There has to be something. What do you really really want?
Him: What I really really want is to sleep! I was going to sleep ’til you sat here!
Me: Well too late. I’m here already.
Him: Ok ok… Do you have a cigarette?
Me: Nope. I don’t smoke.
Him: Then there really isn’t anything you can give me.
So our conversation was going nowhere. But I really felt like I had to keep talking. So I asked more questions:
Me: What’s your job?
Him: Are you blind? Can’t you see I’m a Taong Grasa! (note: these are homeless individuals who look like they have grease all over their body, wear tattered clothes, and don’t bathe) I don’t have a job! Let me sleep! I’m sorry if I did anything to you.
Me thinking to myself: David you idiot! Of course he doesn’t have a job!
Me back to him: What was your job before? Don’t you have a family?
And it was probably the perseverance, or maybe it was something else, but his tone changed, and he answered, and he started telling his story. He had lost everything. And he was blaming his current state on a series of events. He had stopped hoping, and with that he lost his reason to live, and finally he lost his dignity.
Then he asked me a question that hit me like a curve ball, “What do YOU want?” So I thought about it and answered, “I want a lot of things.” Then he said, “Don’t we all think that? But what do you really REALLY want?”
And that’s a question, a gift from Angelo, I always ask myself whenever I need to make a decision, to remind myself to go back to what’s really important, to what’s really of value to me, to what I really REALLY want.
These simple goodness, these simple excellences, and simple purities, and simply profound and profoundly simple truths are all around us, continuously available but often times missed, as I many times do, blinded by the fears, and hurt, and bitterness. Mostly, I’m blinded by my selfishness.
Sometimes I’m not so blind. And sometimes I’m aware, and able to recognize a surprising gem in what seems to be a dump. Among these unexpected blessings, and some of my favorites, are the beautiful strangers, the Anglelos, Villadarises, Julias, and Bratwursts that make up the cast of the ever changing story of this grateful life.
1. The Beautiful Interruptions
2. The Beautiful Strangers
3. The Beautiful End