Helen of Marlowe's Blog

The homeless man at the coffee shop

Posted in "North Carolina", Friends & families, Government, NC, Religion by helenofmarlowe on July 3, 2011

Charlotte, NC

~ 8:00 a.m.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Early ( for me at least) on Sunday morning.

Sitting at a coffee shop on Providence Road, about a hundred miles from home.

Sitting outside, under the trees. A row of tables beside the parking lot.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

A homeless man walked by. He didn’t look at me.  Three or four times he walked by, back and forth, without looking at me. What would I have done if he had?  Said Good Morning?  Looked away?  Taken out my cell phone and looked busy?

As I sat there, a nicely dressed young blond man walked out of the coffee shop. This young man said Good morning, and the homeless man responded in kind. The young blond man asked, Have you had breakfast? and then gave the homeless man the bag he’d just walked out of the coffee shop with.

The homeless man thanked him, and asked if he had a few minutes to talk. Perhaps the homeless need conversation and recognition as much as they need food and shelter. The young coffee-shop customer indicated that he had some time, and they talked companionably. During intervals when cars were not passing too close, I heard bits of what they said to one another.

The blond young man asked the homeless man’s name, and the homeless man replied that his name is Larry. He said, They call me Chilly Willy.

The young man asked how he got that name, and Larry said he sings, plays guitar.

Larry asked the young blond man if he was on the way to church. The young man said no, he and his wife were heading to SC, going to a family reunion.

The homeless man asked, What’s that?, and the blond man answered, It’s, family, relatives, they come from different places, just get together, visit.

And then the homeless man said, I have a brother. I’ll give you his phone number and you can call him. He’ll tell you about me.

The blond young man said ok, and I heard the homeless man give a number – 704-xxx-xxxx. The young man took out his cell phone and entered the number and said, OK, I’ve got it.

Something about that moment, that act of accepting the homeless man’s offering, spoke so much more than the words, I’ve got it.  Surely this customer who walked out of the coffee shop and said Good morning to a homeless man will never use that phone number and never even considered that he might, but he gave validation to the homeless man by taking the number and saying, Ok, I’ve got it.

Larry said, My brother will tell you all about me. Larry said he’d been homeless for some years.

He said he got arrested a few times. Sounded like he said DUI, but I’m not sure. I heard Larry say, Why would God make it if it’s not ok to smoke it? And the blonde young man answered, I don’t know, Larry.

And then I saw a young woman get out of a parked car and approach the two men. A pretty young woman with long black hair in a knee-length green and yellow dress walked over to where her husband was standing in the parking lot talking to the homeless man. The young blonde man saw her walking over, and he said, This is my wife. And then he said to her, This is Larry.

The young woman held out her hand and said, I’m pleased to meet you, Larry. The young man said to his wife, Larry sings and plays guitar. Larry said, I can sing anything, I can sing Christian, country, rock, I can sing anything you want. Do you want me to sing for you?

It was obvious, it would be to anyone, it surely was to her, that this was a homeless man. Her reply was, Yes, will you sing something for us?

With a clear musical voice, in the parking lot of this coffee shop, Larry sang.I heard him sing,

Me and Jesus, we got . . . something . . .

I could not make out the words, as cars drove between us, and it’s not a song I know.

The young couple started back to their car, to their drive to SC, to their family reunion, and I heard Larry ask if they had some cash, something they could give him. They said no, and Larry said he had enjoyed talking with them.

As Larry stood on the edge, now, of the street, another car pulled into the parking lot of the coffee shop, and Larry spoke – I didn’t catch what he said – and the car sped up. Larry hollered after the car,

I wish I could go to church. No church wants me there.

The last I saw of Larry he stepped onto the sidewalk and began walking with quick steps along Providence Road, humming, singing softly to himself.

– 30 –


Then how do you live the rest of your life?

Posted in fiction, Friends & families by helenofmarlowe on February 10, 2011

“Say you do something terrible. And it’s done. And you can’t change it. Then how do you live the rest of your life?”

“All I can tell you is what Papa would say. He’d say repent, and then– you can put it aside, more or less, and go on. You’ve probably heard him say that as often as I have.”

“More often.”

Jack Boughton has come home again, after a twenty-year mute absence.

Robert Frost once wrote, Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you. Could that quote have been on Marilynne Robinson’s mind when she titled her novel Home?

Early on, in Home, The Rev. Boughton says to his now middle-aged son, "I just never knew another child who didn't feel at home in the house where he was born."

“Then how do you live the rest of your life?”

Is that a question most of us ask ourselves, or only a few of us?

Maybe only some of us need to?

When I read the passage above, I am reminded of a gathering of friends several years ago — or if not friends, then at least friendly acquaintances, since the gathering was too large to encompass my definition of friend. One of the women in the group had occasion to say “I’m not a bad person.” What occasioned that remark? I don’t recall. She is an elderly widow, Cuban born but here most of her life, a wealthy and beautiful woman, or would be to those (few?) who can look at a seventy year old woman and see beauty.

And I recall thinking, What must it feel like to be able to say that? I know little of her long life, but I felt envy. For her being able to say that.

Jack Boughton is the most haunting literary character I have ever known. Yes, I know Hamlet and Hedda Gabbler and Holden Caulfield, but they don't keep me up at night. I don't wake up wondering how Hamlet felt in his home as a child.

I think of Jack, about whom "so little in his childhood and youth could be mentioned without discomfort."

Jack's father will not know why Jack has come home. The reader learns after Jack's hopes wither away. We understand his utter sadness when he says to Glory,

"I was clutching at straws coming to Gilead. No doubt about that. I've had some experience with them. Straws."

The Rev. Boughton  is mystified by this unhappy son.  He says to Jack, " ... I feel as though you haven't had a good life.'

Jack laughed, "Oh. Well, I'm sorry about that too."

"You misunderstand me. I mean your life has never seemed to have any real joy in it. I'm afraid you've never had much in the way of happiness."

"Oh. I see. Well, I've been happy from time to time. Things are a little difficult now .."

"Yes, because you wouldn't be here otherwise. That's all right. I just never knew another child who didn't feel at home in the house where he was born...."

And yet the child Jack did not feel at home, and still he does not.

Glory often "saw that wary look of his, caution with no certainty of the nature of the threat, and with no notion at all of possible refuge. He realized he did not please his father, did not know how to please his father. He would probably have liked to believe he had done something wrong, so that he could at least orient himself a little, but she had told him a terrible thing, that he had done nothing to offend."  His father had found fault with him anyway.

She regretted telling Jack he had done nothing to offend. It was not something he had done.  It was him.  She wished she could kill herself out of existences, herself and every word she had ever said.

Glory said, 'None of this is your fault, Jack. The phone woke Papa out of a sound sleep, and he's a little cross. That's all.
Jack said mildly... "It never seems to make much difference. Whether I'm at fault or not."

He was "the black sheep, the ne'er-do-well, unremarkable in photographs. None of the very few stories that mentioned him suggested the loss of him could have been wholly regrettable."

We know, the reader knows, Glory knows -- but does his father know? -- how Jack felt after his father insisted he be the one to say grace at table, upsetting the expected routine.

"No, no Jack. I want to hear you say the grace. Humor an old fellow."

"All right." He cleared his throat. "For all we are about to receive, help us to be truly thankful. Amen."

His father looked at him. "That will do, I suppose. I have heard that grace any number of times. It's perfectly all right. And the Lord is forgiving. We can start our breakfast now."

Jack is always polite, but avoids talking about his life. And Jack is afraid his being there is harming his elderly father. No matter how polite and kind and considerate Jack is, he sees his father's anxieties.

"You were always on his mind, all those years. It isn't having you here that makes him worry."

"Then it's -- what? -- my existence, I suppose. My hapless, disreputable existence. And from his point of view, I can't even put an end to it. There is no end to it. I'll always be somewhere in eternity, rotting, or writhing...."

"He never said one thing in his life about rotting or writhing!"

"True. It was always 'perdition' wasn't it. I finally looked the word up in the dictionary. ''The utter loss of the soul, or of final happiness in a future state -- semicolon -- future misery or eternal death.' He's a saint, and I believe he's afraid to die because of me. To leave me behind, still unregenerate -- I know that's what he has on his mind."

Glory said, "If you feel he's worried about you, have you ever considered -- just to ease his mind ... ?"

He looked at her. 'Lying to the old fellow? About the state of my soul? Ah, Glory, what would I be then?"

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Tempus fugit

Posted in Friends & families by helenofmarlowe on January 28, 2011

This morning, I opened an email from a friend who said,

Do you remember where you had lunch twenty-five years ago today?

I thought — huh?  What kind of question is that?


Then later today, as I heard (not for the first time this week) that twenty-five years

ago today was the day the space shuttle Challenger  exploded, I understood.

And I responded to her email — yes, yes, we were in a cafe near Wake Forest University,

there was a tv over the bar …

Twenty-five years.

Twenty five.


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