by Katie Rich
He will remain unnamed, but he is as real as you and I. He sits on a plastic crate, sandwiched between the doors of Trader Joe’s and an apartment complex, flashing a toothy grin at everyone who bustles around him. He offers cheery greetings to them, frequently saying, “You have a good day, sir,” or “Hello, ma’am, enjoy your shopping,” despite the averted glances and hurried gaits of those he addresses. Yes, his plastic Starbucks cup sits on the gum-speckled sidewalk in front of him, but that is as far as his begging goes, never letting a word of it pass his lips. Instead, he focuses on his greeting and smiling, and that is exactly what he is doing when we approach him.
I had been having what I’d deemed a bad day for a number of reasons, ranging all across the petty scale. I admittedly had ventured out into the streets as a distraction rather than out of the goodness of my heart. I didn’t expect the man sitting on the plastic crate to give me a wake-up call, at least not in the way he did.
He caught my attention when he announced he wants to write a book called “Missing the Mark,” because that is what we as a society are best at. He said that there is a truth out there, and it doesn’t matter what different people think about it or what it means to them specifically because at the end of the day, the truth is the truth (my philosopher’s ears perked up at this colloquial description of objective truth). He said that while people try to be good, to find this truth, they inevitably end up failing, or in his words, “missing the mark.” He thinks this happens for a number of reasons, one being that people do not understand that they are where they are in life for a reason. He used to ask God why he had to be on the streets, why he was handed such a hard lot while others seemingly had it so easy. But then he realized, someone has to be there. There’s a place in this world for everyone, and they are mere shadows of the places God holds for us in heaven. He says he’d like to have a nice chat with God about why these things are necessary, but what he does know is that they are all part of the plan.
I don’t think I can agree with him that it is necessary for homelessness to exist. However, I was still struck by his optimism and obedience to what seemed to him to be the will of God. I was pondering this when he said, “Some people say that all they want is to be happy. Not me. I choose joy. Happiness changes, like the weather. But joy is never ending.”
I realized, watching him talk and pause every few moments to greet the people passing by him, graciously thanking a woman who dropped 15 cents in his cup, that he was right. He was not a happy man; how could he be, sitting on that crate and looking up at the world rushing past him? But he was joyful. He cherished that joy, shared it just enough, he said, to keep it going. And he fuels it with hope. He said that hope is that spark of life in your soul, and a man without hope has nothing.
The fall air felt lighter around me as we shuffled off to the T. Before we were out of earshot I heard him again greeting the people around him. I knew immediately that I had to write about him, to share his message with the world, because God knows we can all benefit from it. So, as we stare headlong into another school year, whether it is your first or your last, think of the words of the man on the plastic crate, and work on harvesting joy in your soul.