Monday, September 30, 2013

Two Hobos & Two Monks From Australia Walk Into a Bar. . .

. . . Ok, so it wasn't a bar.  And they weren't all together.  But they all did play a role in my life this weekend. As my friend John pointed out to me the other day, "life is strange."  And it seems I have a knack for getting myself into strange situations.

Here, let me set the scene.  It's 5:10 on a Saturday in Boston, and I am somewhere between power-walking and jogging towards the bus terminal at South Station.  I've got a big ol' reusable shopping bag slung over one shoulder, filled with all sorts of clothing I can't actually wear this weekend because they're potential costume pieces for my show.  No, there is nothing practical in my giant bag.

No, I don't have a ticket yet.

Yes, this trip is impromptu.  

No, it wasn't well planned.  Gypsy life, ok guys?

As I approach the terminal, I move swiftly passed the assorted homeless, beggars, and other impoverished who often crowd that final stretch of street. I hurry towards my destination, trying to ignore the poverty around me that tugs at my heart, but I can't help but notice a man digging through the trash barrel by the side entrance of the terminal. My stomach sinks when I notice that he hasn't got a bag with returnables in it, which means his goal in riffling through the trash can only be one other thing. I move briskly past him but turn to look over my shoulder in time to see him pull a McDonald's bag from the trash.

As I climb the stairs to the purchasing area of the terminal, I can smell the McDonald's upstairs in the food court, the same location the man outside's scavenged dinner no doubt originated: the greasy smell strikes me as a sharp, pitiful contrast to the mental image of the man looking for a few cold bites of the disregarded fast food in the garbage.  I tell myself if I miss my bus (which is probable, it departs in less than ten minutes and I haven't purchased my ticket yet) I will go to the McDonald's and buy the man a value meal so he can at least have warm fast food.

Instead of making me feel better, the idea immediately makes me feel awful.  In what world is my surprise, impromptu day off full of comfort and convenience more important than another human being literally starving outside?  If it takes me missing my bus in order to do the right thing, than I don't deserve to ever catch another bus again.  I turn around, and head back down the stairs, open my wallet and pull out the few dollars I have left, and give them to the man with a request that he buy himseld something hot to eat.  I don't know if he'll spend it on food, or if it will got to booze or cigarettes or something else.  I do know that he was a grown man eating cold french fries out of a trash barrel, and I couldn't stomach walking away. And that the look of shock on his face, shock that another human being would reach out to him, will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Well, now naturally, I missed my bus. I purchased a ticket for a later trip, and then headed over to the McDonalds.  I know it seems foolish, but I kept imagining what it would be like for that man - dirty, and yes smelly, and bearded, and clearly homeless - to stand in line and wait for his food.  The looks, and the judgement, and the suspicion from security guards at bare minimum. . . so I grabbed a chicken sandwich and brought it to him.  I started to walk back towards where the trains come in to South Station, deciding to buy myself a slice of pizza at the big food court while I waited for my bus.  As I started on this leg of my journey, I noticed a man in grey.  A grey robe, to be specific, with a shaved head and a long beard and a pair of sandals on his feet.  Clearly, he was a Franciscan monk.  He looked a little lost, but I figured he'd be fine.  God knows there are enough Catholic Churches in Boston and he probably knew where he was going and I was really hungry . . . . and then he stopped and looked around, and the next thing I knew. . .

Me: "Excuse me.  Are you lost?"
Franciscan One: "Sort of . . ."
Me: "Sort of?  I take it, by your accent you're not from around here?"
Franciscan One: "No, me and my brother" - indicates back towards the terminal - "are here for four months visiting a brother in Roxbury.  I believe we're supposed to meet someone here, but I have no idea where exactly 'here' is other than being in the southern part of Boston."
Me: "Do you know how to contact the person you're meeting, brother?"
Second Franciscan approaches cheerfully, introduces himself as actually being a priest within the order, and says: "Yes we have a number but unfortunately, being. . ."
Me: ". . . Franciscans and having no personal property, you have absolutely no way of contacting them." *pulls out phone* *hopes they aren't very clever thieves* *judges self for thinking so poorly and suspiciously of two men of the cloth* *remembers Church scandals* *chides self again for painting with a broad brush* *and for being paranoid* *hands over phone*

As Franciscan One makes his phone call (well, I had to do the actual dialing) a homeless man approaches us, pulls off his knit cap, and crosses himself.  He waits patiently until the phone conversation is complete, crosses himself again, and asks each friar for his blessing in turn.  I immediately feel as though I could cry, watching this gentle yet fervent display of faith, but before any tears can reach my eyes (I'm a sucker ok?) the homeless man turns to me.  And he is not looking for a blessing.  He abruptly begins to shout, admonishing me for being a sinner, a slut, a jezebel, a daughter of the devil himself.  How dare I stand in front of holy men dressed the way I am - which for the record, is jeans, a t-shirt, and a pair of toms.  The thing that earns this man's ire (and is "why the world is becoming a hell-pit") is my shirt, a comfortable t-shirt I sometimes wear for rehearsals, which has the collar cut off: at this particular moment, you can see one of my shoulders, and across it, my bra strap. The man's outrage continues to build and I note that our strange group - keep in mind, we're a 20-something girl, two foreign monks in full robes, and a hollering homeless man - is drawing attention.  The Franciscans step between me and the man, and admonish him for yelling at me, and for passing judgement, and firmly inform him that is not "the Lord's will or work," and that as a matter of fact, I had just done an act of charity (which is when I get my phone back).

The Franciscans then walk me into the main hub of South Station, so I can finally grab my slice of pizza. Before they leave, I open my mouth to ask for their blessing, but before I can speak the first brother has raised his hand and made the Sign of the Cross over me, while the second brother smiles and says something I don't think I'll ever forget: "Blessings are more than gestures, little sister.  Blessings should be deeds.  You have as much power to bless as I."

I watch the brothers walk away, back to where their ride (in theory) is meeting them.  Then I turn and head to the pizza counter to purchase my lunch/dinner, which I will now have to do with my credit card since I'm out of cash.  While I look at the variety of pies, the cheerful, mustachioed, heavily-accented man behind the counter makes small talk with me, and when I say "Could I have a slice of this one?" he replies "Eeeeehhhhh, maybe. . . " so I try again "May I have a slice of that one, please?" "HHhmmm, better but eh, I'm very busy," and so forth.  Each slice I ask for he jokingly turns down all the while taking the pizza, pulling out my slice, and packaging it neatly up.  Finally I figure out the trick - "Per favore? Posso?" "Please? May I?" I ask, and he laughs so hard his mustache shakes and hands over my meal.  As I take the bag that should contain my slice of pizza and a drink, I note the extra weight.  "Scusa?" (excuse me?) I hold up the bag and tell him I think he made a mistake, that he gave me an extra slice.  The man smiles at me and says "No mistake: I hope the extra slice will bring me an extra blessing.  You must be a special girl, I figure: I saw the Franciscans give you care when they brought you in.  Maybe I think it's smart for me to give extra care too."  Immediately humbled - and thinking of the brother's words about blessings - I thank him and walk away, suddenly strangely grateful to have missed "my" bus.

It isn't until after that I look at my receipt and see he didn't charge me for either slice, only for the soda.

"Blessings should be deeds."

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