Phew! And I am back home from a trip to Hawaii with my family. Pretty fun; got stomach burns learning how to surf… Anyway, this is to make up for the weeks I’ve missed. Stay posted!
Throughout this post I will refer to religion or religious-like subjects having to do with myself and others. In no way am I seeking to prove any superiority over any belief nor am I seeking to attack any one group. Take this your own way- my interpretation focuses on the goodness of the individual rather than the worldly divisions that I have come to see throughout my life. It was a tough decision for me to share my story, as I expect some to take offense, but I believe that now is a good time to share it. I do not intend offense or even intend to sound boastful at points in this story. I am just sharing with you a single event that has changed my life forever as a person. Read on.
I call him the Santa Ana Man.
I never asked for his name. He never really asked for mine until I told him.
There was a time when I was asked to help feed the homeless with a couple of friends. Make some sandwiches, walk around, pass out the sandwiches and hopefully impart a bit of the Christian faith, of which I grew up with and devoted myself to.
Now, being slightly uncommitted at the time, and not afraid to admit this, I thought, “Well, I really hope that all of these homeless would at least be able to understand what I’m saying.” My friends agreed on going in pairs around the area we were designated to be at in order to get the “maximum coverage” of sandwiches.
We were more focused on passing out the sandwiches than imparting our faith, for goodness’ sake! Now, as I look back, I feel kind of ashamed at this.
Anyway, I’m digressing right now. We were going to Santa Ana, CA, in order to pass out these sandwiches to the homeless that often resided around the Hall of Records. Surprisingly, we met a close, fellow church there, and we all went over to meet our close friends. After slapping around a couple of high-fives, we left them to do their thing, which was actually selling food for cheap to the homeless. A bit more straining on their pockets, but still manageable, as each food box costed only a couple of cents to a dollar.
So I’m walking around with three of my buddies. We were lugging around a trash bag filled with brown bags containing a sandwich, water bottle, napkin, and fruit in each. As we passed out each brown bag, we did the proper thing that was taught/ that we knew instinctively to do- “God bless. Have a nice day.”
Surprisingly, we were met with less grunts and dirty looks that we had imagined. It was refreshing to see all of the joy and happiness on the faces of the homeless that we had helped. They even responded with a “God bless” back!
I looked around the area outside the Hall of Records. There were many homeless who had “set up camp”; from simple fold-up chairs to flattened cardboard boxes, the homeless seemed to be living happily and content with what they had. Dancing, singing, telling jokes and stories of lives long lost and high school sweethearts, the homeless had their own community in this little area of the city. And they didn’t care about the dirty looks received from strangers walking by, often using these in jokes of their own.
I passed off the bag of sandwiches to my good friend and looked around. I had always known that the homeless were some of the most content that you would ever know in your life (if they stuck together, of course), but the question was, why?
Obviously, as you were expecting, my eyes soon rested on the Santa Ana Man.
He was sitting on an upturned Homer’s Bucket when we all approached him and his neighbors. His bike was leaning against him, and he wielded two metal poles. When we stood next to him to see what he was doing, he had, ingeniously, practically converted his bicycle into a drum set of sorts. By using the two metal poles to hit various parts of his bike (the seat cushion, gears, chain, tire, etc.), he was able to produce complex rhythms and sounds- that sounded great! And he was on time and tempo, too.
Taking notice of the four youngsters who were standing by him, the Santa Ana Man looked up and smiled warmly. “What can I help you with?”
I took a sandwich bag, offered it to him, and started saying the usual “God bless.”
Before I finished, however, he smiled again. “Don’t worry, my friends,” he spoke, “I’ve always got him near my heart.” Under his buttoned shirt, the man pulled out a necklace with a Jesus-on-the-cross pendant hanging from the center. “Always have kept him near my heart. Never have taken him off.”
We paused, expecting him to say more. He looks down at his bicycle and metal poles. “Oh, these? I consider them my portable instruments. Watch this..” He screws the two metal poles together, forming one long pole that could be easily contained in his backpack. After putting the pole away in his pack, he took out a torn, tattered Bible. On it were scribbles. Doodles. I could see that they had some significance to him. And that’s when he began to tell his story.
“I was born and raised in the Mormon faith. You know, the guys that often walked to your front door with the white shirt and tie asking, ‘Would you like a moment with Jesus?’ The ones that you often see on bikes or at the local Wal-Mart?”
We nodded and all laughed heartily. The man laughed too, then continued.
“Well, I wasn’t one of those kinds of Mormons, those evangelical ones, but I was pretty involved in my church. I played not only the drums,” (here, he gestured to his bike), “but also a bit of guitar and organ. I was content with my life, my dreams ahead of me, faith by my side.
“I also had the greatest honor of marrying my high-school sweetheart, raising a child, and having a stable, happy family. Everything in my life was set. I prayed and thanked God for all of my fortune. I had a car and a house. Everything was great, I thought.”
Thinking of the typical tragedy/underdog stories that I had read, I automatically nodded, preparing for the big tragedy that landed him next to the Hall of Records. But then I realized- those were just stories. This was real.
I payed close attention and empathized with the man.
“It was just one night and, BAM!, just like that. My life went down the drain. There was a car accident, and both my sweetheart and my child…”. Here, he gave us a pained expression and his lips started to tremble. I started to cry internally as well. He regained composure and carried on.
“My life suddenly didn’t make sense anymore. I fell down, below society. Lost my car. My job. My house. I didn’t even think of God throughout the whole ordeal. Eventually, I guess I just forgot about Him.”
He began to flip through his tattered Bible. He showed us a page, an angel drawn in pen throughout the text on the page. Underneath were the words, “Don’t Forget”, followed by the question, “Where are you?”
“This Bible is my life story. The thing that I carried with me here. So I would never forget the faith. As you can see through my 5-year-old doodles-” This extracted several goodhearted chuckles from all of us, “I vowed, never again, to forget the faith. This is what kept me from killing myself years ago. From falling too far.”
I think that I was actually crying externally at the moment, although afterwards my friends told me that I wasn’t. Maybe they were just messing with me.
But what hit me was what he said after. You know how when someone who is trying to get you to come to a certain religion states their testimony and their testimony only?
Well, the Santa Ana Man did more than that. After his testimony to us, who were already in the Christian faith ourselves yet were still deeply impacted by it, he looked around the area he was camped at. He pointed to a group of homeless next to us, who seemed to be reading something, shouting phrases of happiness and encouragement to one another. “I started that,” he simply stated.
Sensing our puzzled thoughts, he elaborated. “They never had Bible studies here every day. I started it all. Their singing, their worship, sermons- I get asked to help them a lot.”
He took a sip of water from the bottle his brown bag and pointed to a portly woman sitting in between him and the study group, who was talking to another man. “She never used to want to stand up or walk at all,” he explained, “Depression or something, I guess. We all wanted to help her. That’s when I came here and started an intervention with her. You know, like that series that you may have seen in some health class or another. Now, she can get up and walk with that-”
He pointed to a walker leaning against a tree several feet away.
“- And guess what? She even smiles, now!”
At this point, the woman must have been told a joke, because she started laughing.
The man had some more to say. “Do any of you kids know a bit of Spanish?”
Curious, I answered yes. First-year Spanish technically counts.
“Translate this. El rey, el salvador, siempre esta en tu corazón. Those are the words that I live by.”
The king, the savior, is always in your heart.
It’s a good thing that I read ahead in Spanish class.
The man finally ended when he looked around, saw the Bible study group underway, and laughed. “It looks like they’ve started without me already! I better get going. You should probably get going, too.”
That was it. For most of us, at least. Not for me. “I hope that I’ll see you again,” I said. He agreed, although he probably thought that I didn’t mean it.
Afterwards, I told my parents the story of the Santa Ana Man, and his legacy, his life. They were, I guess, touched, although I really couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter, however.
It touched me.
Quickly scribbling a note on a half-sheet of paper, I slipped the sheet into a brand-new Bible that we had in our home. I asked my parents if we could come back to the place where he was, expecting a no or maybe tomorrow.
I got a yes.
As I walked through the area the second time (it was around 2 PM when I left the Hall with my friends and 5 PM when I came back), I looked around the homeless. Still dancing, although many were tired at this time and were asleep or reading things that they happened to have in their packs.
I walked over to the Santa Ana Man, who was sitting on a fold-up chair, taking a fish-nap while listening to the woman and man exchanging clever jokes and stories. I patted him on the shoulder, giving him a start.
“Remember me?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re…” he started, and then smiled.
“You came back after all!” He quickly stood up and shook my hand.
Noticing the other hand behind my back, he asked, “So, you’ve brought more sandwiches for us?”
I smiled at him. “Not at all, sir. What I know you need is much more than a sandwich.” I held out my hand, the Bible resting in my hand, and said to him, “This is for you. For helping me grow in my faith. For helping me to believe. Thank you.”
At that moment, he was wearing sunglasses. However, when I gave him the Bible, I saw him start to shed tears of joy under those lenses. His bottom lip trembling, he read all of my note to the woman and the man, who at the time were beaming in joy and disbelief. They couldn’t believe it either.
“See,” I explained, “I noticed how your Bible had gone through hard times. This represented your life, gone through hard times. I wanted to give you the key to a new chapter in your life. A new canvas for your story.”
He teared up again and flipped through the Bible. He flipped to the end, where there was a whole dictionary that explained some of the Hebrew meanings and measures in the Bible, and was simply overjoyed beyond words. He saw the colored maps, the table of contents.
“Wow, the whole Bible! I’ve been missing some pages…”
“Yes, sir,” I told him, “From Genesis to Revelations, you can read it all.”
The lady who started to walk and smile again started laughing at this. “Did you hear him?” she asked the man next to her, who was quietly observing the whole exchange, “He said the exact words you said! ‘Read the whole Bible! The whole book! From Genesis to Revelations! You can read it all!'”
The man, who was staring at me at first, not sure if he could trust me, broke out into a wide grin. He grunted at this, but his eyes expressed a thanks beyond words.
The Santa Ana man turned to me, saying, “You don’t know how much this means to me. We can have better studies now! Thank you, thank you, thank you…”
We hugged each other, friends in the faith. That was the first and possibly the only time that I had ever hugged a stranger, much less a homeless person.
But the hug felt the same. Better, in fact. Wholesome, brotherly, and full of faith.
As I walked back to where my mother had parked, she asked me, “Should I have given you money to give to him?”
“No, mom,” I answered. “He has what he truly needs.”
Why, I kept on asking myself, why did the homeless stay so content and full of hope and joy? Why are they so much happier than us?
It’s because they have faith. Faith in something that keeps them alive. If faith is the only thing that you’ve got left, you can’t be worried anymore.
Faith is a cherished thing. It is one of the reasons why I am now what I am today.
Put your faith in something to get you through. You can’t get through life without some strong belief in something, whether it be life, religion, something you love.
I find that faith leads to love. Love leads to goodness. Goodness to action.
And action to happiness in life. Which leads back to faith again. It’s a cycle.
The faith cycle.
By the way, this is actually a true story of mine. Although seemingly dramatic, it is 100% true. The very first picture of this post is the Santa Ana Man himself. I expect to visit him again to see how he’s doing- if he’s still there and hasn’t moved camp.