Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ragged Beauty

We had just finished our tea and a visit, were ready to leave the coffee shop. Both of us stood to use the facilities before heading our separate ways. My black bag, heavy laden with laptop and all the accessories remained on the chair.

At the same moment in time, we noticed a man at the table behind us. Long, grey, unkempt beard; wrinkles sagging a face worn out by time; blue eyes, crinkled and watery. On his head he wore a dirty blue ball cap, his burgundy coat faded, dirty, and well-used.

We paused on our trek to the washroom, looked at the man then at one another. She said, "I'll wait here. You go ahead." And she sat back down. I peered again at the man, turned to her, and nodded my head.

In my few quiet moments, I pondered my reaction to this man. Did I truly believe this man, possibly homeless, would grab my laptop and run? I did not. Yet some would, so how do I discern whom is trustworthy?

I returned to the table, ready to grab my bag and go on my way. She headed to the washroom. And he focused his watery eyes on me. It was as though he could read my thoughts, and I felt the heat of shame climb up my neck. He twitched his dry, cracked lips and opened into a smile. The most beautiful, bright white smile! I wondered if they were veneers or dentures, so gleaming was their surface. Not the teeth of a man with no home.

And he spoke to me. "Are you a writer?" he asked with genuine interest.

"I am," I replied. "Well, I'm trying to be."

"What do you write? Short stories, magazine articles, or are you a student?"

"I am writing a book, actually. Hopefully." His curiosity made me uncomfortable, less confident, unsure, and ashamed.

We continued for several minutes, him drawing more and more information from me, with painstaking patience. He offered praise and encouragement. He suggested a writer's group. He smiled and smiled. And he was so beautiful.

As we bid farewell and I heaved my briefcase onto my shoulder, I noticed his companion. A man in a suit - younger, maybe his son. The younger man chewed thoughtfully on his sandwich, absorbing our dialogue, as though it were a familiar scene. My scraggly-bearded friend had no food, only a lone cup of coffee. He did not appear to be hungry. Not what you'd expect from a homeless man.

As I drove home, I allowed my imagination to drift... Who was this kind character in the coffee shop? Why did I misjudge him? What is God trying to teach me though that old man?

Perhaps he was just there to encourage me. Maybe to teach me not to judge what I see but to discern with my heart. Or was he demonstrating for me how I ought to love and encourage others?

All I know for sure is that the old, ragged, worn-out man I met in the coffee shop was there for me. The charm of his personality and the mystery of his smile remain with me - in my head, in my heart.

1 comment:

  1. You just reminded me of two times I had encounters, with similar men. Once it was a homeless guy, who was on the curb selling old things. He ask if I wanted anything, I said no thank you. We had just been to a fast food place and had an extra cheese burger untouched, so I ask him if he wanted it. He thanked me, and as I was walking a way he gave me a rosary. I have not seen the man again. The other time it was a man at store, long bear, clothes all dirty. He just said hello, got a spanish/english dictionary and ask me about certain words. I think he was just wanted to talk to someone. At times I feel like walking away quickly, but sometimes I feel that I should at least say hello. You never know it might be an Angel in disguise or even Jesus himself.


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