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Oh Taste How Sweet and Tart the Red Juice Is

On my usual way to lunch to pick up a sandwich at Subway across from the Central Library, I made my way down Canton Street, past the Dog Park at Cesar Chavez Boulevard, around the curve to the intersection at Harwood Street when I saw him. He was a large man with full long greasy hair to his shoulders. I often see him in the area. The First Presbyterian Church's soup kitchen is near that intersection and many days he is sitting or standing along the outside wall. He is always dressed in bulky jeans and a heavy coat and he's always carrying in both hands old plastic sacks full of unidentifiable things. Food perhaps. Or items of clothing. Or maybe just stuff he has found along his daily sidewalk journeys down the lonely streets of the urban city.

At the corner of Harwood and Canton (which becomes Young Street) is a small flower garden and fountain just outside the side entrance of the old large First Presbyterian Church. That's where I saw him. Several cars were in front of me so I moved slowly past him. And there with those grimy sacks in his hands he stood just looking at the lovely fresh flowers. I remember hearing myself say out loud, “Hmmmm,” as I drove by him. It was a scene full of insight.

I wonder if the people who tend that little flower garden know what they have done for that man. He’s a man seemingly broken, lost in the shadows of large anonymous buildings, always ambling head down along the same concrete pathways. But this day he stopped in the maze of the city streets to see something I fear is missing in his life, something I suspect he longs for—and that is beauty.

The flowers, gorgeous lilies on tall bending stalks, looked up at him in their peach shades of spring colors. He seemed frozen in wonder just staring. I wanted to stop and stare, too.

We all need beauty in our lives whatever our circumstances. How rich those moments are when we are captured by it.

Too often, though, I miss them. I bypass them on my way to more important but lesser things. Goethe, the German poet, was fond of saying that we are charmed by the heights but fail to climb them; with the mountain in view we only walk the plains.

Last week the world lost one of its greatest writers, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, “Gabo” to those who loved him. His books were filled with mystical images and spiritual truths. He wrote in defense of the impoverished and in defiance of the powerful. He was once quoted as saying, “There’s always something left to love.” His words, his stories guided us to the beautiful. We need that guidance so much today.

We are all poor, really. And we are all caught in our own personal crises. Not much different from the homeless man on the street staring at the flowers.

In a poem that expresses all of this so well, Ellen Bass writes,

There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
Crunch between your teeth.

A man who carries his life around with him in worn plastic sacks stands for a moment in bliss. Beauty reaches forth to embrace him. And me. And for a wild moment it all makes sense.

© 2014 Timothy Moody

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