There is a homeless man who lives behind my building at work. His name is Jonathon, but there was another Jonathon in his neighborhood growing up– so he goes by Jay.
I met him the day I started my job, two years ago. It was early and we chatted for a bit before I had to go in. He wished me “Rainbow Luck”, an expression his mother used. She would offer it in moderation because she believed there was only so much super-powerful Rainbow Luck to go around.
I’ve enjoyed a great two years at my job, so I can only assume Jay’s mom was right about how powerful that sort of luck is.
Over the years, I’ve suggested a few places for Jay to go– organizations designed specifically to help those without homes. I even offered a space in my apartment, even though the conditions aren’t much better than those at a shelter. Every time, he would reject the offer– politely but firmly.
He’s just not meant to be inside anymore, he says.
I don’t know too much about Jay’s details, like where he was born or where he went to school. I don’t know what traumatic event caused his life to take the sharp turn that it has taken.
I often think about it, though, and I have my theories.
I grew up with parents who reign in the world of academia and I know the patterns of speech, movement, and thought that go along with a high-level college degree and teaching experience. In real life that skill is a party trick– I can recognize a teacher a mile away, and 90% of the time guess what and where they teach. I’d bet that, once upon a time, Jay was a college professor active in a mid-range university’s English department.
Even after years of homelessness, a teacher sounds like a teacher.
I would guess that his trauma has to do with a car accident, based on micro-expressions throughout our random conversations and his noticeable relief at the idea that I don’t drive.
I try not to mention it, though. I figure if Jay wanted me to know, he’d tell me.
Instead I just make notes of the things that might trigger bad memories for him, and move to other topics. Like Nina Simone and how her voice squeezes your heart, or the Big Bang and how it probably sounded like a little whisper.
Every day I work, we have these little chats. The day before one of my days off, I leave a packet of news for him. Nothing too fantastic, just stories about people literally slipping on banana peels and other odd news. Sometimes I leave books or crossword puzzles.
He has a strong mind, one that I know is a little broken, but I have hopes that it can be repaired. The worst thing in the world is for a sharp tool to become rusty or worn, so I leave those tidbits to keep him at the top of his game. I make special efforts to select articles, books, and puzzles that won’t contain any bad-memory triggers.
The other day, Jay said he was going to try to buy a used book. He wasn’t sure if he could manage all the necessary steps– going inside a building, perhaps even getting on a bus– but he wanted to let me know he was going to try.
I know how big of a deal this is for him, so I wished him Rainbow Luck.
He thanked me for my everyday kindness, and I objected. Our friendship and discussions have benefited us both. If we start thanking each other for being decent, compatible human beings, we’d never get to any other conversations.
He corrected me. He said he wasn’t thanking for me the things I do, but for the things I let go. He was thanking me for being at peace with where the universe had dropped him, and comfortable with our paths connecting at a less than stellar time in his life. He was thanking me for not pushing.
Now– that I understand. Acceptance and patience are wonderful kindnesses. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of such kindnesses many times in my life, though I’ve never been as gracious as Jay. I don’t think I’ve ever thanked someone specifically for those gifts before, but next time I will.
I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve decided that Rainbow Luck is probably fueled by the noticing, giving, and accepting of tiny kindnesses. Maybe one day, it won’t be a limited sort of luck. Maybe enough of us will learn how to give thanks for these things, and the idea will spread– and this old world will be a new world, and we’ll be feelin’ good. *
B4Peace Monthly Challenge Prompt: Write about a daily/weekly gesture or act of kindness that you perform to create peace in your home and/or community. http://everydaygurus.com/b4peace/
*It’s not a direct quote, but a very close play on the lyrics of “Feelin’ Good” — “And this old world, is a new world, and a bold world for me. And I’m feelin’ good!”