More Than Meets the Eye
Annapolis Maryland had such a seaworthy quality in the air. There was something about living there that always made me feel like I just got off a sailboat. It took me a while to feel grounded when so many around me were coming into town on a boat, and leaving not long afterwards, even though the town boasts of so many year round residents. But it was energizing as well, magic was a palpable fiber of the air.
It was in this air that an unassuming man came into my dreams.
One day, and these days were rare, I had time on my hands between work and graduate school. It was one of those relaxed errand days, giving gratification as all the hanging practical needs of life were getting done with ease. Around noon I decided to give my car a wash at the self-serve station a mile or so away from my home. The water and foam guns are such a blast! The rare times I avail myself of this kind of car wash it always gets me wondering why they are not the go to for my car care. Something about the powerful blast of water forcing the dirt off my car, and the overflowing foamy suds that wrap it in a blanket feels so good.
I had just finished when I saw this man.
He was clearly upset.
He was a fairly thin, older African American man riding a dilapidated bike. He waivered as he pedaled, so much so, I wondered if he was going to fall. Granted only his right hand was doing all the balancing and stearing.
And he was so disturbed.
His left hand was gripped around the rim of a large black heavy duty garbage bag. And as he rode the bag filled with air, billowing and throwing him off balance. At unpredictable intervals he would abruptly stop and shake the bag out. Only air had been collected but you would have thought it was filled with heavy dirt seeing the vehemence and exertion he took to shake the bag out.
I wondered if this man had a home. And I wondered about his story. Dirt and sweat seemed to be engraved into the wrinkles of his skin, surely revealing a history of their own.
He had me mesmerized.
After a seemingly arbitrary conclusion to the shaking of the bag, ‘for how could he really get ALL the air out of the bag?’, this man resumed pedaling, balancing the open bag to collect more air, and stopping again to shake out the bag.
His face was contorted in a frustrated, angry sort of shape and his lips moved almost imperceptibly voicing his angst.
This went on as I stood silently, and would probably go on for much longer than I could stay to watch. I needed to say hello, to ask what he was doing, his angst stirred my own heart.
So I did.
‘Hi there!’ I started with a wave and a big smile. ‘I was wondering what you are doing with this black bag.’ I think he could tell my curiosity was motivated by a caring desire to know, or maybe it was just that he didn’t care who approached him. Either way, he answered with a clear, vehement and notable brash tone, ‘This air is toxic, I am cleaning the air.’
I was moved. What a powerful service this man lived. At this point I can’t remember if I asked him what was making it toxic, or if there was just the understanding that it was human toxicity he was cleaning up. This was clear between us.
Humbled and inspired all I could say in trembling tone was, ‘thank you, my friend, thank you for what you are doing for all of us.’
I bet many people would say he was crazy.
That night he penetrated my dreams.
We were in the same place, me standing beside my newly washed car and him on a bike. But everything was different. The sun was shining brightly, more brightly than any physical color could convey, and this dear man had complete peace. His face was relaxed, his smile was easy and bright, and the air around us was so very pure. In fact it was luminescent, earth seemed to be joyfully bursting all around us.
For me, he was living a reality that was much more real than most might believe. And in the reality that had so many layers it was striking, breathtaking to see his level of service, generosity and devoted care. He was doing what he was compelled and impelled to do.
But there was more than the whole-hearted response this man witnessed to me. He also acted with utter confidence that his actions mattered, that they made a difference. Absolutely incredible.
Is that so crazy?
Generosity like this oftentimes goes unnoticed; true service like this so often unrecognized.
And how often are people making a difference in our midst considered crazy?