by Eleanor Goldfield
this cluster of lines
on a scarred and splotched sidewalk
seemed highly ordinary at first,
until I looked closer.
And I don’t know why I looked closer,
but through the lines and curves,
a face appeared,
then a full likeness of a man –
a beautifully rendered man
who looked quite distinguished.
As with any piece of art,
you interpret what you will,
but the reason I include this here
is because it reminded me of this story.
I was sitting on a bus in LA on my way down to Santa Monica for work. I was reading a book at the front of the bus when a man boarded and sat across from me. He was an anomaly from that first introduction of stale sweat and too many homeless nights juxtaposed against a scholarly air and an intense interest in the newspaper he was reading.
I would not have said anything first but he began to speak to me about the book that I was reading.
Fast forward to 45 minutes later and I find that he had been a school teacher – high school, and that he had been one of the many thousands laid off that previous year due to cuts and a sagging economy. At that point in his life, he couldn’t find work – all he knew was teaching. He held on to his modest apartment as long as he could, then he downsized, then he downsized again, then he lived in his car, then someone stole his car.
I sat and listened to him, his eloquent and soothing timbre relating these lines as if they had been memorized, and yet with a solemnity and hesitant sadness that spoke of a seldom shared story.
I almost missed him.
I almost hid,
as we all do,
behind my book, my work, my phone, my chosen distraction –
hoping to avoid contact with the all-too-real,
and jagged edges of our society.
And yet, if I had not let him in,
to engage with me,
what an experience I would have missed –
what a fascinating encounter I would have lost,
that perhaps would have prompted me to miss this one.
To miss this distinguished man, on the streets,
alone, scarcely noticeable
as he blends into the gray stains
of a society on its way.
So perhaps this story,
and this artwork will inspire you –
to engage with the shadows,
the unkempt truths,
and find someone or something new –
that you might have missed otherwise.