until he met...
The man who had no feet
Couldn't help but notice him coming up the six-lane street: US-52 (a/k/a Jefferson Street) in Joliet, IL.
He was on the sidewalk on the south side of the street, headed east. I told "the better half" about him as he was hidden from her view, her back facing the south wall of an Arby's on the north side of the street. I told her I would alert her when he had gone far-enough down the sidewalk for her to see him.
It was a dastardly hot mid-June day. Not a cloud in the sky. 96º F the last time I had looked. Gulf air mass coming in; relative humidity probably around 90%. The first thing that caught my eye was the movement of the brightly colored, wooden wheels of the trailer. They appeared freshly painted. This was shortly followed by movement of the children's wind-spinners mounted to the trailer's side rails. They spun crazily in the 30 mile per hour wind from the south. It was like they were setting in front of the fan in a convection oven. From there, my eyes were drawn to the clean, pristine American flag, waving in the strong breeze from the short mast mounted to the trailer's tailgate.
The trailer, piled high with unknown junk was a veritable banquet of contrasting colors, shapes and movements. Slowly, my eyes moved from the rear to the front of the trailer, gluttonously gobbling the visual delights: a multi-colored blanket here, a wash-tub there, a plastic sand-box frame, and so on. From the front of the trailer, my eyes wandered further forward to the bicycle to which the trailer was hitched. It was an old "women's bike" from the 50s with fat tires and the cut-out center frame that permitted women of class and modesty to mount and dismount the vehicle when wearing a skirt or dress. But the rider was not riding the bike--not in that inferno-like heat at least.
With his hands on the handlebars, the rider walked beside the bike while pushing it, the trailer, the trailer's contents and himself forward through the purgatory heat that was almost hell.
He was an old guy; maybe my age, maybe a decade or two younger but probably no older. Hard to tell. He wore baggy camouflage pants, camouflaged as much by their green/brown pattern as by the dirt and grease on them, apparent to me from nearly 75 yards away. Up top he wore a perfectly-coordinated matching long-sleeve shirt, unbuttoned half-way down. His bare chest was covered by a scraggly, greasy, salt & pepper beard hanging to below his pectorals. His full head of long, equally-greasy hair was similarly kempt.
It had been a hell of a six years. On two separate occasions I had found myself knocking on death's door (once from disease, once from a horrific auto crash), had endured a major back operation and had lost my father, two jobs, our dream house, most of our retirement and virtually all of our savings. Sue (the better half) had endured all of this with me as well as the loss of her father, a broken pelvis, the breakup of her son's family and a total knee replacement.
Like I said, it had been a hell of a six years.
It was the road through all of this that brought us to the Arby's in Joliet, just a few blocks from our house. We were returning from Menard's where we'd gone to look at storm doors, another of the many fix-ups required by the 1950 house into which we had recently moved.
As he came back into my view in the window to Sue's immediate right, I marveled at the steady pace he maintained despite the great heat and (what I estimated to be) the 700 pound load he pushed along. After taking a few more steps, I realized his progress had taken him to a point where Sue, too, could see him.
"Look over your shoulder to the right," I urged. She did so.
"That's so sad," she said after a considerable time spent looking. "There were so many people like him when I worked in the city (Chicago). The homeless take everything they have with them. If they don't, they're afraid someone will steal it."
We sat in silence for a while, contemplating this man, his meager possessions and his existence. We returned to our pick-up truck, one of our two vehicles, and drove in silence up clean, mature-tree-lined streets, to our cozy ranch house
Sue broke the ice: "We're incredibly lucky," she said.
I had to agree: she was right.
We found a church, shortly after our move to Joliet, with which we couldn't be happier. Sue being Catholic and me being more of a fundamentalist type, we evolved several years ago to the Episcopal church. Basically Popeless Catholics, Episcopalians are Protestant-enough to fit my upbringing and Catholic-enough for Sue to be comfortable.
Our Priest (an engaging and very intelligent woman who was probably a "libber"-type hippy-chick back in the 60s and 70s) delivered a sermon a couple of weeks ago that I can't get off of my mind. Her sermon was about a book: Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.
To make a long story short, according to Rohr, one's life can be divided into two parts: effectively, the material and the spiritual. During the material phase (which some never progress beyond--are you listening, Donald Trump?) we are most concerned with material aspects--the physical portion of our lives. Most people, later on, progress to the spiritual phase in which they become more concerned with how they fit into synch with the universe--how do I fit into the master plan?
I haven't read the book yet but I will.
I pray the guy with the colorful wagon and the bicycle enjoys peace and finds his place in the universe. I wish I had taken the time to speak with him.