He had dirt under his fingernails; he wore his swimsuit over his jeans and his hoody sweatshirt over a t-shirt with a tattered collar; his pupils were tiny, leading us to believe he was under the influence of street pharmaceuticals; and, the sum total of his possessions included the clothes on him, the extra pants clenched in his left hand, and the small carry bag over his shoulder that was pretty much filled with a brown teddy bear. And in the 20 minutes we talked to him, we learned a lot about the man and about life’s journeys.
My youngest and middle sons and I were fishing together in a river in San Marcos on Saturday. At a distance sat a man. As we finished our fishing at the spot, he walked toward the river, keeping a safe distance from us. From about 20 yards away he queried, “What do you catch here? Bass? Anything?” By this time the three of us, who are clearly kin when you see us together, were walking toward him. I answered that we hadn’t caught anything there, but that one of the boys had caught a nice bass just up the way. The man smiled broadly, rubbed his short-cropped hair in a “I’m gathering my thoughts” sort of way, and expressed his pleasure in the news. “From here?” he asked. “I go to Texas State,” one son said. “Family, huh?,” the man said. “They come to visit you?,” he asked. “Yes,” my son continued, “they do. Good family.” “Yes, good family,” the man said. From that trickle of words flowed a stream of conversation with him. My youngest son was oblivious to the potential dangers of the situation; my middle son was conversational, yet intense and secretly worked a large rock loose from the dirt with his feet, “just in case.” Yet in that time we learned of a man who graduated from college in San Marcos to be a high school teacher in San Antonio–a “rock and roll” teacher, he proclaimed–only to find that things changed and now he was here, on the road, on a journey, as he described it. His sharing was broken by the head rubbing to re-find his place, and by pauses where his brain’s gears churned and processed. And we learned a lot.
This man with only a teddy bear for a companion was experienced, intelligent, current on local news, and seemed unsure how he got to this point in his life. When I quoted the old expression–“if you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans”–he paused and reflected. Disconnected from his father and brother; likely no longer welcome by former friends in the San Marcos area; seemingly confused at how he REALLY got to where he is in life: he shared all of this in tidbits and stories. All the while, my boys and I learned.
Life IS a journey, and it is not at the command of our plans or dreams or hopes or aspirations. Family matters, and family lost forever remains a deep wound and hurt. Reaching out to family and friends by letter or for a shared cup of coffee is important, but difficult enough to cause fear and careful consideration. Even when you have a teddy bear to talk to all the time, a few minutes with even strangers who listen can be a good thing.
My sons and I had a great time fishing the San Marcos rivers. We’ll forget almost everything over time, except the conversation with the homeless man on a journey. We all learned by listening and conversing. Such is each of our journeys.