Every time I pass the bench along the beach walk where I once had a poignant encounter with a houseless man named John, who showed me great generosity (see my post DESSERT at http://slipwithsnak.blogspot.com/2010/08/generosity.html), I look for him. Never found him until my first sun set on New Year's Day.
It had been so long since I met him that I wasn't sure that the man sitting on the bench was really him.
"Are you John?" I ask.
"Yeah, I am still John." He grins, "I don't know for how long, but right now I'm still John."
When I see his missing teeth, I recognize him.
"Do you know me?" he asks.
"I watched the sunset with you and your friend Mike some time ago." I say, "You probably don't remember."
"I'm a drunk." he says laughing, spreading out his arms, "I don't remember a thing."
I notice that his eyes are blue and that he is considerably cleaner than when I first met him. It looks like he has taken a shower not too long ago and washed his hair. He seems happy to talk with me.
"Look," he says, pointing at the setting sun, "I don't know about you, but I think that that is God. That is God right there. Have you ever seen anything like that? Something that is so... so...." He searches for words as he gazes at the brilliant orange glow over the horizon and the wide expanse of sky, his face dumbfounded with awe.
Then he frowns and says, "You know, I just can't understand it. I try to figure out how He does it, how he makes the sky... like that... the sun... you know?" For a moment he sits quietly, then all of a sudden he grabs my hand, pressing it hard, asking, "Do you know? Do you understand God? Do you? Tell me. Do you?"
I'm shocked that he has taken my hand and keeps holding it. That's really outrageous! And the way he is pushing those questions at me! I'm wondering if he's nuts or drunk or a present-day Rumi, sent to shake me out of my slumber.
The couple sitting on the next bench over, I'm sure, can hear everything (John is pretty loud), but they're pretending not to listen.
John lets go of my hand. He shakes his head. "I'm getting too old for this." he says.
"How old is old, John?" I ask.
"I'm so old, I forget to count the years." he grins, relaxing, "I'm 61 and I'm rooting for making it to 77."
"I'll root for you, too." I smile, indulging him, even though inside I go, 'Fat chance, you're homeless, drunk, and probably crazy too.'
"You will? That's great, I'll have a personal cheerleader. That will be a first for me." He looks at me with grateful eyes, instantly putting me to shame. How did I get to be so cynical?
I change the subject. "Hey, John, what do you do all day?"
"I have many friends," he says, "we talk and sometime I go downtown to buy fruit and vegetables to cook."
"To cook? Really? Where do you cook?" I'm astonished.
"I have a little burner, you know, a metal thing with fire."
I glance at his bags. "Do you carry it around everywhere?"
"Oh no," he laughs, "I got my stuff hidden under a bush. Don't tell anyone."
Just then one of John's friends shows up. His name is Ian and he is originally from Hungary. He tells me that he lives in a room above Hula's. He winks at me and asks, "You know where Hula's is? Why don't you come and I'll buy you a drink."
When I tell him I don't drink, he looks at me like I'm from another planet, which may just be the truth for these guys. "But we make such a good couple," Ian laughs, "See, we both have gray hair." He holds his head next to mine.
John screams with delight. "Yeah, you two should marry. I'm the Cupid, see?" He mimics shooting an arrow, then doubles over with laughter. "I'll be your Best Man and I'll throw flowers at you (pointing wildly to me), I'll be your Flower Girl. I'll bury you in flowers." John's enthusiasm is making us all laugh hard.
"But first I'll have to get a divorce from my husband." I interrupt.
"What? You're married?" John shouts, "Why didn't you tell me before? Oh, I see your ring now."
Ian looks at me mournfully. "If you change your mind," he says, "you know where to find me."
Then Ian turns to John and says, "Man, after last night, I thought you'd be in the gutter today."
John holds up a wrinkled brown paper bag with, what I presume, a bottle of liquor inside.
Ian rolls his eyes. "You sound like you got a frog in your throat, man."
"And you got a monkey in your throat." John counters as Ian turns to leave.
I think it's time for me to leave too and I tell John goodbye, but he grabs my hand and says gravely, "No, don't leave yet. You can't leave me until you understand God."
It takes me a while to get my bearings back, but when I do, I nod my head and tell him, "Well, I think it's real simple: God is you and you are God, sitting on a bench."
"Oh, I knew that." he sniffs, patting his bottle and waving me off.