I have a story. A memory really. About a man.
I was standing alongside this fleeting experience recently, while watching the clock tick away in a grocery store line. Felt important to write about. Not because the content is a critical life or death necessity. Is anything other than morning coffee really? No, I wanted to share it because I recently got my nails done and, well, its related in a way you’ll only understand if you keep reading.
It goes like this…
I met a man once, but you already guessed that.
He had been previously homeless for approximately 10 years prior to me shaking his hand.
I first introduced myself over the phone.
I fed him a line using the most professional voice I could dig out of my trembling tongue.
“Hello, this is Courtney. I am the new Intern here at this agency and will be working with you for the next 9 months. I am looking forward to meeting with you soon, but as of now do you have any questions for me?”
Nothing but the sound of a distant wind rushed through the telephone.
Seconds, which felt like minutes, passed.
My supervisor, who I shared a connected prison-cell-like cubicle wall with, peaked her head over the top. Curiosity beamed in her eyes as she so obviously wondered if jumping over to save a drowning new swimmer would become inevitable.
“Courtney. The Intern. Well, right now I’m on my moped speeding through the streets enjoying today. My only question for you would be are you doing the same? Enjoying today?”
I smiled. For some reason I pictured Snoopy, ears in the wind, Woodstock holding on tight to his comrade, both wearing a pair of sunglasses that could charm the pants off any dog walking their way.
“Enjoying it thoroughly. Be safe now and I will talk with you later.”
Eventually, I got to see Mr. Moped and hear about his story. He was in his fifties. He had about two teeth left and the only hair on his head was in his ears and above his eyes. Nice guy. Lived with some skeletons, but don’t we all? At least he tried turning his life around more times than years I’ve been alive.
I spent a majority of the months working with him, and others alike, running around like that famous quote about a chicken and a head cut off.
Days went like this: clean cockroaches and old cigarette filled aristocrat bottles all day, then go home to write 12 page papers and read 50 page articles all night.
I completed the work my professors required. I fulfilled the duties my supervisor demanded. And in between I watched bravo tv and ate goldfish in my sweatpants because, quite frankly, I had given up on answering the desires my body kept yelling for.
Every challenge became a storm I barely got out of with all four limbs.
But then, one day, as I drove into a meeting with my life or death coffee in hand, my outlook shifted in the hurricane.
I was meeting with Mr. Moped, Mr. Moped’s psychiatrist, and my new assigned supervisor after the old one had enough with the storms and quit. See, Mr. Moped battled with some serious mental illness and addictions. And, Woodstock wasn’t exactly the helping hand he needed to get out of the doghouse.
We were all asked to sit in a cold room in a gloomy building. The psychiatrist and my new supervisor began discussing Mr. Moped as if neither him nor I were in the room. They talked over each other, under each other, around each other, and so absurdly loud it was like neither had obtained manners in their many years of education.
Another challenge, another storm I thought. Woo is me I thought. What are all of the accounting major’s bank accounts doing right now while mine is working for free I thought.
I glanced up at Mr. Moped, concerned at what his thoughts may be. But there he was, smiling big enough to show his only two teeth.
I followed the path his eyes took and ended on my own two hands placed on the notebook I was supposed to be taking notes in.
My fingers, probably still caked in either goldfish cheese or the remains of dirt, dust, and cockroach guts, lay motionless. My nails were covered in a scattered black polish. Some missing it completely, others with nothing more that a mere dot.
Mr. Moped suddenly put his hand on mine. He ran his thumb over my poorly painted fingers. And with the most authentic statement I have ever felt in my bones said
“Whatever you are going through in life right now, it’ll pass. Life can be pretty hard, trust me, but it’s all small things that we can get through together.”
Unsure of whether to bust out in heartbreaking laughter because I felt so genuinely touched by this uncomfortable, kind gesture
…or to burst out in tears because a homeless, heroin addicted, family and friendless man with two teeth who barely knew my life story other than I had paint chipped nails decided to tell ME everything will be ok.
I put my other hand on his so all three were comforting one another. I smiled back at him. Both of us sat calmly, still ignoring the other two people in the room who never stopped their battle to be right and never noticed our most tranquil moment.
“Together, we most definitely will.” I responded
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Mr. Moped but his lesson continues on with me wherever I go.
Which of course is – Always paint your nails.
It is the following – Obstacles aren’t always life ending storms, but merely a speed bump along a journey. The stuff you think is big… in perspective it’s always small so remember to stay humble. There is always someone out there riding a moped in a tornado, while you are only driving over a pothole in the comfort of a 2016 ford escape.
So cheers, to you, Mr. Moped. May every soul enjoy life as much as you did, even after enduring so many days filled with much more than just chipped nail polish along the way.