So, the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. In “The Golden Compass” everyone had daemons, animal spirits that were a physical manifestation of their souls. Are the daemons born with the babies? A woman might give birth to a baby and a … puppy? Or do the daemons just appear one day. How’s that work?
You will often find me…
Staring at the sky. The ground. Trees. My hands. Not because I’m a blithering idiot but because we are surrounded by wondrous things. Even the things that aren’t necessarily wondrous we can take for granted. We ignore the stories that are being told to us like children who have decided that they’re too grown for bedtime stories. And then having shut our eyes so tightly we wonder why we see no magic in the world.
In the sky yesterday morning I saw a bright white line. I followed with my eye and saw the gleam of an airplane. A good distance behind it, another with a white stripe in its wake. Then I looked around and saw swaths of clouds that weren’t clouds at all but the contrails of all of the airplanes that morning, all streaking due south. How many stories were on those hunks of metal five miles in the sky. Thousands of travelers leaving one place for another and each one with a different reason, a different story. Tossed into the atmosphere to land in another circumstance, in someone else’s dream. Thought bubbles against the canvas of an early morning blue still blushing from the sunrise.
I’ll sing randomly. Memories of music sparked by nothing in particular. It’s cloudy today. Oh, there’s a break in the clouds. And I say. It’s alright.
I’ll stare into trees to watch squirrels perform acrobatics with the ease that we sit in place. Squirrels Squirrels Squirrels. A Motley Crue.
If you turn away just long enough and turn back quickly you might catch me smelling a book, newspaper or magazine. Markers, a crayon. Any food.
I feel guilty when I eat meat sometimes and the best I can do then is to thank it for nourishing me. Or to admit that I deserve heartburn for eating it in the first place. Did a baby sheep really die so I can eat this lunch? That’s not what I want.
I go out of my way to avoid killing bugs. Live and let live.
I sing to my dog and dance for her. Well, not for her. If I do it long enough she’ll get up and romp around if there’s a toy nearby for her to pounce on.
I am saddened to see so many beautiful women and no smiles. So I content myself with watching them walk and mentally tracing the art and rhythm of their curves. And a howl rises in my chest, the loneliest of maned gray wolves under the fullest of moons on the highest of forested peaks only to be choked down without release.
I am distracted by the beggars and drifters posted along the busiest walkways and intersections of the commuting herds hoping for crumbs. Each request for generosity drifting off in a fine mist of breath in the frigid winter air.
I dodge and weave to avoid them and am no better for it. So it goes.
This story would not be true except that it is. I decided to stop this time. This same homeless man every day in the same spot with the same cup. He doesn’t talk. He just rattles the change in his cup to beg for more. Any other day I’d keep on walking. I’ve got stuff to do. But you know, today it just bothers me. He’s a big guy, bundled in a wool blanket handed out at a nearby shelter. He doesn’t look particularly disabled and yet there he is, begging for change.
I mean, what’s he doing there? He doesn’t have anywhere else to be? No family or children? Does he work at all? He looks too young to be a Vietnam Vet. He’s probably strung out on crack cocaine or heroin or both. But still, all of a sudden I want to know. So I walk over to him, right.
And I say, Excuse me. But I was wondering, why are you here?
He looks at my hands to see if there’s any change or dollar bills in them. I fish in my pocket and pull out two dollars and some change and put it in his cup. He looks in and swirls the cup around like it’s a latte from the coffee shop behind him.
Because it’s warm here, he says. Heat comes up from the grates and keeps my feet warm.
His voice makes me think of gravel and tar.
No, that’s not what I mean. How did you get here? Why do you … I don’t mean to be rude. But why are you begging for change? You can’t work?
He looks at me. I look right back at him. I don’t have any problem being generous but you know what? A little effort is appreciated.
I feel emboldened now so I ask him, Are you crazy?
He chuckles and mutters, Crazy. Boy, you think I’m crazy, huh. Have a seat.
I sit next to him. Not too close. Even in the cold the smell of homeless is still detectable.
What’s your story?
My story, huh.
Yeh. What’s your story? Of all the down and out people on each of these corners in all of this city why should I give you a dime?
You don’t get something for nothing.
What do you need?
Okay, I’ll be right back.
I went into the coffee shop, bought two large lattes and a few sandwiches and cookies. I came back out and handed him the bag and one of the drinks.
So let’s hear it, I say.
How about I show you?
How are you going to show me?
He grabbed my hand suddenly and I’m not going to lie. It freaks me out so I try to pull back and I’m about to yell for help or something from the people obliviously walking by but his grip relaxes. All he does is keep a hold of my hand.
He says, Sit back down. You said you wanted to know.
I sat down and he starts to hum something. It sounds familiar the way you may recognize a song deep in your memory that was sung to you while you still slept in a crib. He hums, more trance like.
Should I be in the lotus position? I ask him.
He just goes on humming. When I try to pull my hand away he says, do this with your hand?
After some hesitation and eye rolling I hold my free hand up to my eye like I’m looking through a telescope.
Look, he says.
I’m looking. All I see is K St., traffic and commuters.
Sing with me.
What? I’m not going to sing with you. I don’t even know what you’re…
You know it. We all know it.
I sigh in exasperation and say, Go ahead. Hum it some more and I’ll listen a little and join in.
I look through my hand telescope and hum along the best I can. It relaxes me. It’s strange how much it relaxes me. I feel warm even though it’s freezing out. And then. I see.
Like looking through a peephole, a keyhole into a room you’re forbidden to enter. It was black. All black. The blackness of space and then space but brilliant with stars, swirling galaxies and the cosmos. And then I notice some of the stars farther away look they’re moving. Some moving to galactic clouds and some to others. And I realize that they’re not stars at all. I feel as much as see an explosion of light out of my field of vision and then something streaks past me and disappears behind a ringed planet. The ringed planet, I notice, is connected by something barely visible to another and then another. Flickers, twinkles and shimmers and sparkles firing off everywhere like … like something alive.
Planet after planet. Connected. Each cloud in the void of space glowing star bright with suns bigger than our solar system. Ripples of activity traversing the distances. A planet, blue and green, networked with a pattern of lights like a spiderweb, connected by a strand to another.
I feel tears on my face. Hot in comparison to my chilled skin. There’s a palpable force, thrumming and each wave of it feels euphoric. It is the most amazing, ornate, beautiful thing I have ever seen. It’s not just the the rainbow of more colors than we have words for in front of me. It’s not just the depth of peeking into, spying on this bustling stellar infinity. It’s not just aesthetically beautiful. There’s no feeling, no sensation to compare to it.
It’s life. It’s civilization? It’s what we could be. What we were meant to be. We’re not alone. Then I felt an existential tear in my heart. It’s — where we belong.
Sir? Sir! Are you okay?
There’s a woman, middle aged, standing next to me with a paper bag in her hand. I realize that there’s drool running down my chin.
I’m fine. I just…
I look around and the homeless man isn’t next to me anymore. I don’t see him anywhere.
The woman hands me the bag and says, It’s tuna. Do you like tuna?
I don’t … I mean, yes. I like tuna but I’m not — I mean, I don’t. Need it. I don’t need it.
Oh, you poor thing, she says, fussing over me.
She takes off her scarf and wraps it around my neck.
You’ll freeze to death out here.
I can’t think of anything to say except, The grate is warm.
Are you homeless? she asks me.
We’re all homeless, I say inconsolably.
There’s a shelter not too far from here, she says.
We’re all homeless, I say again. We’re so far. How did we get so far from home?
She stuffs a twenty dollar bill into my hand, pats my back and walks briskly toward the metro escalators. And there I was alone. How do you get so alone? Cast aside. How do we find our way back? Are we meant to?
He shuffled by then, the homeless man. He looked at me, shaking his head.
He said, Why are you still here, boy?
I said, with despair in my voice, We’re all homeless.
I suppose — that’s one way to look at it.
I handed him the twenty dollar bill. And my coat and jacket, my hat. My mp3 player, cell phone, and watch. I emptied the money from my pockets and left it there on the ground in front of him and walked away.