A small older man began regularly appearing at the Sea Star. Every day and almost all day until the sun went down.
I first saw him sitting at the bar one summer afternoon, hunched over a large paperback and glass of water. He was not OTA. He wore a plaid short-sleeve shirt neatly tucked into blue jeans. He wore glasses and a big watch on his left wrist.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I observed his curious routine of reading books, drinking water, getting up to use the restroom, leaving the Sea Star for short walks, and filling up a water bowl for his dog, who was presumably nearby. The man hardly said a word to anyone when I was there.
It was pretty obvious he was homeless, but the pattern of his movements seemed highly peculiar. I’d never seen such a thing in OTA country before.
One day as I passed him on my way out, I studied his face. It was a third vacant, a third confused, and a third forlorn. It was unlike any face I had ever seen in person, on film, or read about in books. It was almost as if some amateur woodworker had used a router to grind out an original face of utter despair.
Who was this man? What was his story?
In short order, Gary, Linda, and Miranda, a Sea Star daytime bartender, got the scoop on the man’s plight, or at least tidbits of it, from the man himself.
He was local and had recently been evicted from his home for non-payment of the mortgage. Apparently his finances had withered because he was sending money to various “women” in several countries. At least one of them had promised to visit him. It all sounded like a classic catfishing operation but he denied a scheme and remained steadfast in his conviction that a woman from Turkey was coming soon. Miranda also informed me that he had lost his wife to cancer several years ago and had served as her caregiver.
Somehow the man had landed at the Sea Star and was living out of his mini-van with a Labrador. In the three weeks since his appearance, he’d never purchased a single drink, alcoholic or otherwise, and never gambled. I never once saw him look at a television. Just water and novels all day long and sometimes he didn’t read, but sat there, hunched over, staring into the old shuffleboard table that served as the scuffed Sea Star counter.
At some point, management of the bar had a conversation with the man about his non-paying presence, and occasional panhandling inside the joint.
Incredibly, at least in my mind, management said he could continue his routine (absent the panhandling) until the end of the month when a benefit check was supposed to arrive. He was even allowed to park out back of the Sea Star!
It was an extraordinary act of kindness from OTA country, and when some of us learned of it, we sprang into action. It was as if one simple act of kindness broke the dam and washed away the hostility that several regulars had demonstrated toward the man. He doesn’t buy anything! He’s taking up space! He needs to find somewhere else to be homeless! He can’t beg in here! Call the cops!
Why do the actions of the poor engender more anger than the actions of the rich? Often the most searing anger toward the poor emanates from poor people themselves. I have never understood this but I keep trying to understand.
Like I said, one act of kindness witnessed or heard about second-hand, and the gospel gets around. Call the gospel the dynamite of kindness. Watch it blow the dam to smithereens.
Someone at the Sea Star told the man about low-cost motels and a county non profit that might help him with housing. Gary and Linda brought in dog food, dog treats and smoked tuna! There were gifts of garden vegetables. I bought dog food, recommended novels from the Sea Star’s library, and offered my tent.
We rallied together to help the man. In doing so, we rallied ourselves, found fortitude, and staved off all the anger that poisons American life these days. There is nothing like rallying on behalf of someone who needs help, rallying without agenda.
More of that. If we don’t, we will perish from this earth.
Let me run with the word perish. An Apache proverb goes: the earth will perish with spiderwebs in the sky. Perish is such a beautiful-sounding verb to describe the act of dying. There is poetry in it. There is something transcendent there. Perish is also the cornerstone verb of the Gettysburg Address, the greatest 272 words in the history of everything inspiring written about the promise of American life. President Lincoln wrote it himself and read it to mourners on bloody ground. He wrote it to rally Americans to an ideal of what democratic government is supposed to be. He delivered it to rally Americans to the idea of healing deadly divisions.
We obviously don’t have that kind of President today. So let us rally ourselves instead and help men like the one lost in the Sea Star. Let us help women, children, animals and watersheds, too. It all begins with kindness and in this case, it began in a dive bar on the Oregon Coast.
Amen. Now get to work!