“They have a share of this great pain
of which the human life is but a piece;
the balm of grass, the blade of stones
are both their lot — and both they love
and walk to your delight,
like hands that play the harp.”
(Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Book of Hours”)
In the “Book of Poverty and Death,” Book Three of Austrian poet Rainier Maria Rilke’s “The Book of Hours,” the writer/monk often comments upon his perception of the grace and simplicity of those who are poor.
None of us wants to be poor as far as $$$ go, of course, but often there are lessons that can be learned from those who out of necessity live a simpler life than others.
For about five years I have been acquainted with a guy named Mike who has lived on the streets for most of his adult life. He has mild schizophrenia and rambles on incomprehensibly sometimes, but he is basically a kind and gentle human being.
And whenever he sees me he always remembers who I am and gives me a big smile.
He hangs out a lot at a church down the road where he is basically an honorary member of the congregation. He loves coffee and the treats that folks share. And kind-hearted souls often give him extra snacks and a few dollars. And he is always appreciative of the gifts he receives.
He likes to draw and even though I don’t know what the heck his scribbling signifies, he has always been grateful when I have occasionally given him a new drawing pad.
Despite his difficulties, he has a generous nature and many has been the time when he has offered me one of his bags of chips or crackers. Sometimes he even asks me if I want a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but considering how much people on the streets enjoy their smokes, that is quite an unselfish offer.
One time he even rescued and cared for a tiger-tabby kitten that had taken up residence under the wooden ramp that leads to the entrance of the church.
Even though he does not “work” in the traditional meaning of the word, his life is not any less complicated than that of someone else who does.
He is one of the most amazing survivors I have ever met. He finds places to sleep, ways to keep himself clean, ways to manage the small income that he receives.
I have heard and shared many “Mike stories” over the years and yesterday I learned of a very touching new tale to tell.
A friend of mine offered Mike $5 on a recent Sunday just for the heck of it. Mike was hesitant to take it because he didn’t really need the extra money at the time.
So in exchange for the five bucks, he asked my friend if he wanted to go to Starbuck’s for some coffee, his treat. How cool is that?
My friend couldn’t go so Mike asked around and found two other members of the congregation who were up for going.
And on this particular Sunday, Mike had also done another amazing thing.
He often quietly sits in the back of the church during services, head bent over his paper, drawing strange pictures that only make sense to him.
At halftime, the ushers passed the baskets and Mike was observed contributing some cash.
It was soon discovered that Mike had thrown in a hundred-dollar bill. And that this gift had come out of his very meager income.
He did not want it returned to him. He gave it to the church, he said, because he wanted to give back for all the kind things that the church has done for him.
“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5)
©June 2011 by Phyllis J. Hanniver