Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Even at home...

I've known him for 10 years. We met on the beach after I watched him for a few days, talking to some unknown person out there in the ocean, waving his hands and bowing. He spent days alone, lying on a dirty blanket, always in the same place right at the edge of the sand where it met with the high tide. No one would sit next to him even when the beach was crowded. He wore the same clothes day in and day out, long hair matted, dirty finger nails, and drinking from a bottle in a paper bag. I found out later that the bottle was simply filled with water. I was intrigued by his actions, and embarrassed by the actions of others and myself: avoidance and distrust.

In the early evening, he would stand at the edge of the water, look west, lift his hat and bow, to nobody. He would raise his hands, wave, and make the shape of a heart in the air and I could hear him say "I love you" over and over again. He would stay there and do this until the sun went down behind the horizon, and with his head hung low, shuffle up the beach and disappear for the night. I was to find out who he was and to whom he was talking to.

I went up to him late one afternoon, introduced myself and asked if he would like some company. Without any hesitation, he said yes, and for the last 10 years, we have met and talked for hours almost every day of my time on the beach each summer. I saw him again last week. Hugh is 64 years old, has 2 master's degrees, taught poetry in college, and lived la vida loca high on LSD from the time he was 20 until he crashed at the age of 40. He has been homeless off and on (more on than off) ever since. His mind is burned with LSD, flashbacks are frequent, but during his lucid times, he is smart, gentle and humble. Those times are becoming fewer and fewer, and last week, it was obvious that he was getting worse; he couldn't remember where he taught, went to college, or when we saw each other last. He sleeps in a park off the beach. I took him to one of our favorite places, Prince of Peace Abbey. We attened mass, we prayed, and talked for several hours, looking at the ocean from atop a hill where the abbey is. I listened as he moved from one subject to the next, sometimes making sense, most of the time not. We talked about Joe. She is the person he talks to, who he sees on the ocean in the evening, his love, his life. He says she lives on a sailboat and stays in the marina near the beach. I've checked. She doesn't exist. I've told him so, only to see his eyes water up and he becomes quiet, and he goes on talking about her as if he didn't hear me. I don't bring it up anymore.

Last week when I dropped him off at the park, I hugged him, held his hands as we prayed, and felt comfortable being with him despite what he was: a homeless, wasted, lonely man. I have grown to love him for who he is: a brother who seeks only that to which he is entitled to - dignity and personhood. He is no different than the rest of us. We look to others for love and support, and welcome the warm embrace of those we love, the softness of a touch, the smell, the feel, the words, and the look they give us with their eyes. Hugh looks to Joe for all of that as well, raising his hat and waving his hands, making the shape of a heart with his hands to someone he loves out there in the ocean, wanting to feel her warmth. He believes in her. A fool's errand. But a sweet, gentle fool, who lives a life as a consequence of what he did to himself in the past. I look past that, and see in him, the "forgotten children" to whom we are committed...the innocent, abandoned, lonely, and forgotten children. Hugh...I think of you often and may you find "Joe" wherever she is.

In all things, give thanks...


copyright 2006