Miracles, magic, and mystery abound everywhere at all times. And you are one of them!
At the Mission I see it all – the beautiful and the ugly, the real and the fake, the honorable and the hypocrite….in myself and in others.
In the days that I’ve been coming to the Mission there has been one picture that has truly puzzled me. It is the picture of one young man who goes around in a wheelchair. I usually see him at dinner which is the meal I attend most as it tends to be the best meal served each day, in my opinion and in the opinion of most I speak to. It’s always the most attended meal followed by compulsory chapel service for those who stay at the Mission. I don’t.
That’s one luxury I have is the option, for now, to sleep in my car which I still don’t enjoy but I do accept. And by accepting all things as they are and my sole responsibility for their occurring I take back that space of possibility that sits in the delicate balance between accountability and incrimination, determination and resignation, and own it, thus freeing me to power that space with creativity, of which my writing out my healing voyage is one expression.
I say writing out because the Word lies within us, asleep, until awakened to seek and utter its expression of truth through us and uniquely as us. We are the Word incarnate. The god lies dead within us, within the sepulchre of our sleep, waiting, yearning to rise again and burst forth as genius, artistry, mastery, and unfettered Self-expression. And there is something in the sphere of our truth, your truth, their truth, his truth, her truth, my truth singularly distinct from any other without being less or more true or beauteous or relevant because the imagination of Life accommodates all.
The young man looks to be in his 20’s. He has straight, short brown hair that stays mussed up, and he wears a full beard that’s not bushy-thick but covers his face as full beards do. He always wears dark-colored jeans and a plaid, flannel shirt. He looks like a hipster, one who happens to be filthy, smelly, and in a wheelchair. I never took much notice of him other than the obvious which is his confinement to the wheelchair and my puzzlement at what I saw, like looking at a painting hanging on the wall and it hanging straight enough that you don’t immediately see how crooked it is, but you sense that it ain’t quite right.
One day Thunderheart was telling me about this young man. Thunderheart finds him disturbing. He’s told me this young man is a straight-up user looking only for handouts and sympathy from others. He thinks he’s here to ‘game the system’ for free food and whatever benefits he can get for free. I had no opinion about it one way or another as I had not paid that kind of attention to the young man.
I decided to start paying closer attention to the young man. Yes, I could see what Thunderheart saw. But was there more? How did he get into that wheelchair? What happened?? If he’s gaming the system then it occurs to him, the young man, in such a way that he doing so becomes necessary. Why?? Why do we Humans do as we do? Why do things occur to us as they do? And what can we do to shift how things occur to us so that we are doing things differently, desirably, and accordingly?
I wanted to engage the young man and pounced on the opportunity when it came. I stood just outside the red doors to the office where the folks do their intake, the interviewing process required for admission as a resident and get other services like vouchers for showers, laundry, and the like. The young man was only a few feet away from me. Here it was.
I probed with an inquisitive jab, “Hey Bro, what happened? Why are you in a wheelchair?”
His spoke slowly, his words dragging heavily….was he on medication?
“I….uh…..I was in Afghanistan…..in the war…..my legs and back were damaged…..I was in a vehicle and an RBG flew right by the truck……it was so fast it blew the doors off the vehicle and the door shattered my legs, my shoulder, my back….” he continued on about surgeries and rods inserted and other gory details. His words dragged heavily….was he on medication? I wondered.
I heard his words but felt no truth in them. Was I being judgmental? Did Thunderheart’s opinion of him taint my mind so that I heard only lies now? Still, there was something…I mean, nothing was wrong but something wasn’t right.
“Hmm, I see,” I said, probing him with my feeling nature now. “Well, Bro, it’s gonna be alright. Life is beautiful no matter what.”
He studied me, peering into my eyes with his, which were beautiful, golden-brown, and almond-shaped, whose outer corners tapered into an exaggerated point, like the eyes of a Hindu goddess. I left him without saying another word.
Then, on one particularly hot day at the Mission, as I was outside kneeling by Steve to soothe him as I had just witnessed him in a shouting, cursing argument with a woman who gets help at the Mission, the young man appeared. He was being pushed by someone and he wore a look of glee which Thunderheart has witnessed before and ascribes to the young man’s getting the attention and pity he craved. Fair enough. But now I felt judgment rising up inside of me.
Blessings, blessings, blessings….blessings, blessings, blessings, I prayed within, a way of bringing in light when shadow forms. (breath free)
What was immediately evident and different this day was that the young man wore shorts, exposing his legs. And they looked healthy.
“Hey, Steve, check it out, Bro. He’s wearing shorts and his legs look pretty healthy, right? I mean, look….they’re not atrophied, there are no scars. He said he got all kinds of surgery on them because of the war in Afghanistan but I don’t see any scars at all.”
“Yeah, that kid, I don’t know about him. He’s weird. One day I had to tell him to get away from me.”
“Why?? What happened??”
“He was coming over to me every day and giving way too much attention to Athena (his chihuahua). And it was too much, too much, and finally I told him, ‘hey buddy, you gotta go…you’re paying way too much attention to my dog’. And he was nice about it….he left and never really bothered again.”
“Yeah, Thunderheart, told me some stuff about him….that he uses people and uses the system…..Thunderheart doesn’t believe he’s really paralyzed anyway. I don’t think he’s paralyzed either.”
My conscience was immediately pierced by the stabbing fire of rebuke for spreading poison through gossip. I infected Steve, and my own soul, with the virus of hell. Reproach burned within. I turned my thoughts to compassion for the young man and felt them soften as I reflected on how this young man, user and liar, was just like me, like all of us in some way. And that his paralysis, his disability, if not physical was psychological, was more enabling leading to disabling, as it is with all of us.
“Well, Bro, aren’t we all paralyzed in some way? Don’t we all stop ourselves from being all we were intended to be just by giving in to some shadow within us that tells us we’re not able, not capable, not worthy? Shoot, man, we all lie, we all cheat, and we all use in some way…..so who am I to judge?”
Steve said nothing. I remained on one knee next to him (so that we’re eye-to-eye when talking) and we both observed the young man, now a distance away, in silence.
A couple days later (or was it the next day? I can’t tell…time ticks differently when you’re shelter-less) I observed the young man in the chapel playing with the children. And what I observed was him using his legs to propel himself in the wheelchair! Wait….what??? His legs were kicking around as he raced to and away from the children in the wheelchair and he couldn’t look happier! Don’t get me wrong, I was happy for him….but he was not paralyzed…..at least not physically. I bookmarked this moment knowing I was going to confront him about it.
The opportunity to confront him came the next night as I stood on the food line for dinner. I stood with Brother Joey, the cam-operator. His demeanor, by the way, since the showing of The Pursuit of Happyness had completely transformed. He now wore the look of a soul restored and invigorated by the resurrection of Christ, the Power within. The young man was right behind us. Joey and I were talking and the room buzzed with the usual supper-time excitement. I abruptly broke away from Joey and turned to the young man in the wheelchair.
“My Brother, you are not paralyzed! You hear me? I want you to listen to my words and listen well right now, Bro. Your are NOT PARALYZED! I see you moving your legs they’re fine. There is nothing wrong with you!”
He gave me a pitiful look, no doubt his much-practiced response to such a challenge.
“Well…..my back…..I broke my back…..and……”
“Listen, before I leave this place I want to see you get up out of that chair and walk! Do you hear me?? You will walk!” I declared, and now I pressed the tip of my finger squarely into the center of his chest as I continued, “You will walk, my beautiful Brother, because Creator is within you!”
He looked up at me as I stood over him. Only now as I write this do I realize that I never lowered myself onto one knee which is my custom when speaking to children or to someone in a wheelchair so as to meet with them eye-to-eye. I cannot say I remained standing out of any conscious decision to remain so…yet, I did.
With the eyes of a Hindu goddess carved out of beauty he peered into mine. His face sought for pity in mine. There was none to find but there was compassion. All he could see and hear and feel was power, not my power, no, it was the Power of Life resonating and resounding within his own soul. He said nothing. And I had nothing else to say.
The very next morning I went over to the Shasta Library in Redding, a sanctuary for the shelter-less seeking escape from the summer heat. I use it as my office to make appointments, print, and scan as called for. I parked my car (The Hotel Stratus), grabbed my shoulder bag and headed for the entrance.
And what did I see??? It was the young man in the wheelchair…..except there was NO WHEELCHAIR!
I quickened my steps toward him and shouted, “What do I see!!?? What am I seeing here Bro!!?? WHAT DO I SEE!!??”
He looked up and smiled slightly. He was sitting on the wall of one side of a 3-sided concrete, retaining box, about 2 feet high that held dirt and from which grew a tree. I sat beside him in the warmth of the sunlight.
“My beautiful Brother!!! Where is the wheelchair???”
“I…..someone gave me this cane…..look…..I did that.” He proudly showed me a walking cane made of wood with some kind of wavy pattern carved into its sides as it was square, not rounded. Most of the carving was old. I could tell because the exposed wood matched the surrounding wood. But there were a few carvings that were fresh because the exposed wood was much lighter in color.
“That’s beautiful, Bro! You did that?”
“I love it, Bro! I love it! And look at you – you’re walking now!”
“Yes, and you know what? When you decided to walk, when your desire to walk became greater than your desire to remain sitting, Creator within you came alive! YOU are God! God is expressing Himself as YOU, my good Brother!”
“No. I’m not God.”
“Bro, YES YOU ARE! I’m not saying that you are the Creator of everything you see. What I am saying is that Creator that creates everything we see, and don’t see, lives and expresses as you and me and the tree and the sun and the bird and the sky and the fish and the waters. And you are an expression of that same Power, a child of the Power of the Universe!”
Looking to the sky and then to the ground, he said nothing, but I could feel him deeply contemplating the word spoken.
“What is your name, Bro?”
“Ah, James. What a beautiful name….that was my brother’s name….James.”
“And who are you?”
“I am Sariyd, your Brother, a child of the Most High/the Most Within…..just like you.”
“Hey, Sariyd, you gotta cigarette?”
“A cigarette???” I laughed hard. “No, I ain’t got no cigarette, Bro!”
Then I left him and headed inside the library.
The day after I was driving from the Mission to some appointments with local business owners. I went to recharge my laptop since it was too early to do so at the library. I was a couple blocks from the Mission on South Market Street when I spotted James walking with his cane, and with a surprising spring in his step, not the lame walk you’d expect of someone using a cane. This was my first time seeing him actually walk!
I reached the red light and he was walking toward the Mission along a divider about 10 feet to my left.
“I LOVE WHAT I SEE BRO!!! I LOVE WHAT I SEE BRO!!! WALK, MY BROTHER! WALK!”
He stopped to look at me. He tilted his head to the side a bit, squinting his eyes in the blazing sun. I could not tell what he was thinking….but he was definitely thinking hard about something. Then he resumed walking toward the Mission, only now he walked with a slight limp. I laughed to myself, knowing that ego-consciousness does not give up without a fight.
The light turned green and I sped off to continue my work.
What a blessed miracle, this life! What a blessing!