A John (Part 3)
“I’ve got everything I need,” he said. “I have a tent, and I get food stamps.”
“Oh.” I swallowed. “I just thought…” I drifted off. What did I think? I thought he was homeless, which was apparently correct, but I also thought that being homeless meant he needed my help. As his eyes finally met my own, I realized how wrong I had been. They were clear and direct – so deep a blue as to resemble the autumn sky above us. Intelligence was there, as was humility and, now that he had acknowledged me, compassion. He needed something, to be sure, but not from me. Not from anyone naïve enough to offer in such a way.
In the blank space of my dawning awareness, he glanced down at the plastic bag in my hand. I had been holding it slightly behind me – trying, I think, to hide my sudden embarrassment from him as well as the staring pairs of eyes from the road beside us.
“I understand that you don’t need anything,” I said, “but you might want something… a soda maybe or a sandwich.” I lifted the bag higher, thinking maybe he could be tempted. “Wanting is much different than needing, after all.”
He laughed and the remaining embers of his aloofness vanished. “This is true, but I don’t eat or drink anything when I’m out.” He gestured to the cross. “It’s just my way.”
I nodded, finally understanding. He might not word it this way, almost assuredly not being Catholic, but this was his penance. An Act of Contrition without words. Having formed this opinion, I immediately jumped to the next – no one could be sinful enough to warrant living in a tent, eating food supplied by an indifferent government and standing on the side of the road holding an enormous cross and praying no do-gooders will come along to spoil your solitude.
“I’ve committed my share of sins in the past,” he continued, smiling at the memory. “Maybe more than my share. This is a small gesture to make amends.”