One summer, while enjoying some down time in Santa Barbara, Calif., I came across a kind old gentleman selling poetry by the side of the road. He was wearing a ragged old jacket, thick with dirt. His hands were covered in grease and soot. His hair was wet and matted, and years of hard life were etched across his weather beaten face.
He kindly asked me if I’d like to buy a poem, and I obliged. He sold me a poem about a wounded whale on his last leg of life. I asked him about the poem, where the inspiration came from and how it made him feel. He looked at me totally startled and flabbergasted. He told me that in all of his years sitting there in the dirt selling poetry no one had ever asked him how he felt about a poem, or where he got the inspiration for it.
He collected his thoughts for a moment and began to tell me the saddest story I’ve ever heard about his own life and how he ended up on the streets. He compared his life to that of the wounded whale in his poem and he told me that he really felt hopeless inside. I sat there with that man for half of a day, talking and sharing stories. We then bid our farewells and I drove away.
Grinning from Ear to Ear
A couple of years later while rummaging through an old record bin in a Santa Barbara antique shop, I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. I spun my head around and saw a man grinning from ear to ear. “Benji”, he said. “Yes”, I tentatively replied. “It’s me, the poetry guy!” “You bought a poem from me a couple of years ago.” He didn’t look anything like that guy I had seen that day a couple of years before. His long hair was clean and pulled back in a tight ponytail. He was wearing a clean red-checkered flannel shirt tucked into a pair of jeans and his hands were spotless.
“I remember” I said with great joy. He then shared with me that after that day two years before, when we spoke by the side of the road, he felt inspired to get his life back on track. He told me that the idea that someone cared enough to sit there and listen to his story was enough to shake him from his malaise and caused him to get help for his problems.
Incidentally, that antique store where I was rummaging for records was now in the proud ownership of “the poetry man” and how amazing it was to see a life transformed.
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:40).