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Two Guys Talking on a Street Corner

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[This is part of a series on Faces of the Homeless and street people, for more in this series click here.)

All things are linked with one another, and this oneness is sacred; there is nothing that is not interconnected with everything else.” ~Marcus Aurelius

At first glance one would not likely think that Gary would be asking for money on the street. Dressed in khakis and a turquoise colored Polo-style shirt embroidered with a little sailboat insignia, he would appear to be just an average middle-aged guy waiting for a bus. But there was something in the way that he scanned people as they passed that I new he was panhandling. I was on my way to a local tavern when I first noticed him as I crossed the street. He looked both shy and a little scared when he asked politely, “Excuse me sir, can you spare some change for a disabled veteran?” Knowing the only money I had on me was a twenty dollar bill, and I was on my way for a beer, I looked him in the eyes and politely but selfishly replied, “No, sorry buddy, I can’t.” As the words came out of my mouth I thought to myself, “can’t” or “won’t,” but still I walked over to the tavern which was just a storefront away.

After the bartender brought me a pint she set my change on the bar, and as I looked at it I couldn’t help but think of Gary who was standing just a storefront away. So I set my book next to my beer, grabbed a ten from the change, told the bartender I’d be right back and walked over to Gary. He looked a bit startled as I walked back towards him, and without offering any money I introduced myself and asked if it would be okay to ask him a few questions and possibly take his photo. Not surprisingly he was leery and wanted to know why. I gave him my card with my blog address and explained to him that I was doing a sort of research with people on the street, that I wanted to hear their stories. He agreed, so here is Gary’s story.

Gary is 49, he’ll be 50 next month. He’s not homeless, he has an apartment which is subsidized. I asked him why he is on the street asking people for money and he told me to help pay his bills. His apartment is subsidized but it’s not free, he told me, and he also added that he doesn’t drink or do drugs. He’s only been panhandling for a “short while,” he also told me. When I asked him what it was like when he first started asking people for money, he averted his eyes, looked down and said, “It was humiliating, it still is, but I have no other choice.”

Gary is a veteran who served our country but here he was on a street corner asking people for money. In the age of affluence in which we live, how can this be, I wondered? He didn’t look physically disabled, I knew it had to be something else, so I asked him. “I hear voices,” he told me, “that’s why I can’t hold a job.” It first started while he was in the Marine Corps, back in 1989. Doing the math, Gary would have been in his early twenties, the age at which schizophrenia often emerges in a person, and this is what he is diagnosed with.

I have found that often people just need someone to listen, and that’s what I did. The two of us on a city street corner on a beautiful summer evening. Just two guys talking.

“I have tried so hard,” Gary told me. He asked me to imagine what it would be like to try to hold a job while people were talking to you from inside your own head. I cannot imagine, I told him. “I have fought back with this disease,” he added. He earned his associates degree from Alfred State, and also holds an electrician certificate. He’s tried to hold jobs, but he can’t. “I’m scared,” he said, “I try so hard but I just can’t do it.” His voice changed and there were tears in his eyes as he said this, which caused tears to well in my own eyes, and now it was me looking away uncomfortably.

It was getting dark now and I asked Gary if he has ever been harassed. A little, he told me, but nothing serious. I encouraged him to be as cautious as he could on this street. It is popular with panhandlers in the evening and I have witnessed some being verbally abused by young college kids coming here for the bars. He knew that he said, and he was planning on heading back to his apartment soon.

Before parting I handed Gary the ten dollar bill and asked again if I could take his photo. I took one of him and was surprised at the big grin he offered to the camera. “I smiled,” he said and then asked to see the photo. On an impulse I asked if we could take one together, which we did. Before parting I offered Gary a bit of encouragement and that I hoped he stays safe and that things will keep getting better. He hoped so also, he replied. Uncharacteristically of me, I almost asked Gary if I could say a prayer for him, but I didn’t, I couldn’t. Instead we talked some more, and I listened.

Back at the bar as I sipped my beer I thought of Gary and hoped he was safe as he made his way back to his apartment. I also thought of how we are all connected in some indescribable way. All of us. Most the time this is difficult to remember, but other times—such as tonight—it is not. It’s as if we enter a thin space, as the Celts call it. That place that is thin enough to get a glimpse through the veil, to see the reality of life and what it means to be alive. While I didn’t offer Gary a verbal prayer, in many ways our conversation—him talking and me mostly listening to his story—was a sort of prayer, something sacred. I need to remember this more often, the sacredness of human interaction. This is what I thought about as I sipped my beer on a warm summer evening with a breeze blowing in the opened front door.

A Christmas Message from Paramahansa Yogananda (for the first Sunday of Advent)

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Paramahansa Yogananda at Niagara Falls

 

A Christmas Vow

“I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation, introspection, and discrimination. I will remodel the cradle with the dazzling soul-qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God, will power, self-control, renunciation and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.”

A simple but powerful prayer…

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This is a prayer I carry with me in my wallet, I have for a couple years now. It’s so simple but at the same time so powerful…a prayer of transformation and service. It helps center me and remind me what is real and important. You’d think by now I’d have it memorized, but I don’t. Thus every now and again I take it out and read it. And sometimes it’s just what is needed…

Urban Simplicity.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#612), some studs, and a couple other things…

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So first of all before I say anything about the snow I have to say that my heart and prayers go out to those who may be still stranded, and especially to the families that have lost loved ones in this storm.

Though I have moved away a few times I have always found my way back to my hometown of Buffalo and have weathered many storms in my 53 years, including the Blizzard of ’77 when I was a teenager. But this storm was different. The path it cut was more like a tornado snow storm, this is why people are referring to it as the “knife.” It’s path was somewhat narrow and direct. And the thunder and lightening it produced was really eerie. The media keeps saying that Buffalo is buried in snow but truth be told only one area of the city is actually buried (South Buffalo). From what I can tell most of the brunt of the storm hit south and east of the city. The most that we (most of the city) received was 10″ or less. In some places it was just a dusting. But a few miles away the snow was and is life threatening (to date ten people have perished). Two of my sisters live east of the city where there is more than five feet of snow…not drifting because of the wind but just simply five feet deep of snow! (and I rarely use exclamation points.) There is no way to push it out of the way–because of it’s mass–in the traditional snow plow way, it has to be scooped into trucks and hauled away.

My heart and prayers go out to those still stranded. And what is even more worrisome is that the temperatures are supposed to rise, which will cause flooding. And the weight of wet snow is also a concern for roofs collapsing (some have already collapsed, including that of a nursing home which resulted in two deaths) .

Pictured above is my bike as I went grocery shopping last evening; I had just put on the steel studded snow tires. But it seems too trite to even talk about this with the devastation happening just a few miles from where I type these words. If you believe in prayer I ask you to pray for the people south and east of this city, and if you don’t please just send kind and healing thoughts (which of course is a type of prayer in itself).

Peace, and thank you.

Urban Simplicity.

Stalking Lucille…

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Okay. So first a couple of things. Lucille is not a person, it is this bird…a great blue heron. I posted about her somewhat recently here. And to be honest I am not sure if Lucille is even a female bird, I just named her that because she (it) looks so incredibly graceful. She nests somewhere on Bird Island Pier (click here to see a map). I first got a glimpse of her last year when I was out taking these photos of the Peace Bridge at night. I was riding my bike back up the breakwall and as I passed her she flew in front of me and I almost fell of my bike (its a bit creepy being out there by yourself at night). Anyhow, I went out there again today in search of her…and yes she was there. And she toyed with me (I really believe this). She would let me get about (I’m guessing) 50 feet from her, close enough to snap her photo, then fly off and land down the wall. And then the same scenario would take place. To get a clearer picture of this breakwall (if you haven’t been here), there is about a two mile “public” section that is somewhat maintained that runs parallel with the Niagara River and the Black Rock Channel and it juts out into Lake Erie. But where the public area ends it keeps going for another mile or so. And this is where it gets really interesting…sort of feral. I ride my bike to the end of the public area, lock it to a railing, and walk the rest of the way out. It’s un-maintained, crumbling, and full of birds (hence it’s name). It is narrow for most of the way (as seen in some of the photos), and you have to descend and ascend broken areas, but it widens out at the end (as pictured in the first image below). The photo below is taken at the very end of the pier looking back. Even though it is only about 1/4 mile off shore it is quite literally another world; it is quite breathtaking. I was so overwhelmed at its beauty all I could do was sit down and pray, mediate, and give thanks. When I opened my eyes after meditation I half-expected Lucille to be sitting next to me, but she remained elusive. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Urban Simplicity.

Let Me Walk in Beauty (a Native American Prayer)

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 Image found here

Let Me Walk in Beauty

O Great Spirit,

whose voice I hear in the winds

and whose breath gives life to all the world,

hear me.

I am small and weak.

I need your strength and wisdom.

 

Let me walk in beauty

and let my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made

and my ears grow sharp to hear your voice.

 

Make me wise so that I may understand the things

you have taught my people.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden

in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength not to be greater than my brother or sister

but to fight my greatest enemy, myself.

Make me always ready

to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes

So when life fades as the fading sunset

my spirit may come to you without shame.

 

Great Spirit of love, come to me with the power of the North.

Make me courageous when the cold winds of life fall upon me.

 

Give me strength and endurance for everything

that is harsh, everything that hurts,

everything that makes me squint.

Make me move through life ready to take what comes from the North.

 

Spirit who comes out of the East,

come to me with the power of the rising sun.

Let there be light in my word.

Let there be light on the path that I walk.

Let me remember always that you give the gift of a new day.

Never let me be burdened with sorrow by not

starting over.

 

Great Spirit of creation,

send me the warm and soothing winds from the South.

Comfort me and caress me when I am tired and cold.

Enfold me as your gentle breezes enfold your leaves on the trees.

And as you give to all the earth your warm, moving wind,

Give to me so that I may grow close to you in warmth.

 

Great life-giving Spirit,

I face the West,

the direction of the sundown.

Let me remember every day that the moment will come

when my sun will go down.

Never let me forget that I must fade into you.

Give me beautiful color.

Give me a great sky for setting,

and when it is time to meet you,

I come with glory.

 

And Giver of all life, I pray to you from the earth,

help me to remember as I touch the earth

that I am little and need your pity.

Help me to be thankful for the gift of the earth

and never to walk hurtfully on the world.

Bless to love what comes from mother earth

and teach me how to love your gifts.

 

Great Spirit of the heavens,

lift me up to you

that my heart may worship you

and come to you in glory.

Hold in my memory that you are my Creator,

greater than I,

eager for my good life.

Let everything that is in the world

lift my mind,

and my heart,

and my life to you

so that we may come always to you

in truth and in heart.

Urban Simplicity.