Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My God, Jeff

Three days a week I drive along Burbank Blvd., and when I hit the area where the boulevard meets the 405 Freeway entrance, I see Jeff. He stands in a safe zone between where cars exit and enter the freeway. He’s an enigmatic gatekeeper dressed in a green hospital shirt and old pants, always leaning against the sign he has that doubles for a cane. His sign says he’s a veteran and “please help.”
I’ve gotten to know Jeff because traffic slows down in that area just long enough for me to pause and give him a little money, and, on some days, something to eat. Mainly, I exchange a brief conversation with him before traffic continues.
“How are you today, Jeff?”
“I’m good. Today’s a good day.”
“Do you have somewhere to go? Are you okay?”
“I’m luckier than most. I sleep in an old truck in a buddy’s backyard. I’m trying to get a job. Someday you won’t see me here, and you’ll know I’m working!”
“I wish you well, Jeff.”
“Thank you. Thanks for you.”
“How are you today, Jeff?”
“I’m good. Somebody just gave me a fold-up chair. I’m so grateful. My last one broke.”
“That’s awesome. Have a great day, Jeff.”
“You, too. Thanks for you.”
“How are you today, Jeff?”
“Today’s tough. My brother died. Pray for him and my sister, will you?”
“I will. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“I know God’s with us. Thanks for you.”
            I have no idea about God. But, I do have an idea about Spirit, about Life, about a force bigger than me that infuses our lives. And Jeff embodies it and shares it.
            Today, after Jeff thanked me, I drove on to work and let tears stream down my face and Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” sing on repeat in my car.
            I am really grateful for Jeff. He always has a smile on his face, even when his days aren’t good. His teeth are bad, he walks with a limp, he fought in a war, he doesn’t have a job, his brother died, and he still manages to say thanks to me every day.       
Jeff’s sign reads, “please help.” It’s true. He needs help.
            We expect people to pick themselves up from the bootstraps of whatever pain and lack confines them. We expect people to hit the ground running and go get ‘em. As a society, we aren’t very comfortable with people who stand at our mercy and just ask honestly for some help.
There are lots of people who’ve helped themselves to all kinds of things, some of them decent, some of them not, but they’ve nabbed themselves a really solid life. That’s great. I guess. 
            There’s a greatness about Jeff, too, in his being-ness, in his acceptance of what is, in his gentleness. I’m writing about him, and I’m not sure it’s possible to experience his gentleness unless you see him. There are a lot of people in the world succeeding through dubious means and with dark souls. Jeff is struggling, but his spirit is light, and he’s filled with gratitude.
We all need help, but not all of us ask for it as blatantly as Jeff. Some people cry out for help through their wicked deeds or ignorant manifestations. I’m fine with the way Jeff asks for help. I hope to serve him in my own way, and I hope that makes a difference. 


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