“I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances.
There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly,
and even appreciate more clearly,
if we simply thought of them as people in a story.”
― G.K. Chesterton
We all know who they are, right?
As every community has them…
It’s the guy who rides all over town on the bike that’s decked out as if it should be in a Mardi Gras parade…
Or the elderly lady who pushes the grocery cart into the hospital lobby, awkwardly chatting with everyone waiting.
There always seems to be those loner individuals within each of our towns and or communities.
Those quirky individuals who we consider simply as bizarre characters…
Those odd souls who we more or less claim as community mascots.
With each and every town and community seeming to have their own lot of unique and peculiar characters.
I know our small town certainly does…
There’s the Vietnam vet who runs all over town holding an American flag.
He runs rain or shine, hot or cold….
And he runs precariously close to the road, even out on the busy by-pass.
I use to think he was just some sort of patriotic marathon runner who was always in training.
I was informed otherwise.
He has been hit and run over on more than one occasion and left for dead.
He always seems to rebound, always coming back to pound the pavement with flag in hand.
There’s the young man who looks like an old man.
I know this because I taught him.
He dons a three piece suit, even in the sweltering summer heat, as he proceeds to walk all over town— talking out loud to himself in a high pitched falsetto voice. He is known to preach out loud to no one in particular or curse the cars that he feels infringe upon his walking space.
There is the man who started out as a young man, who has now progressed into being a middle aged man (I know this as well as I also taught him), who walks all over town carrying a tennis racket. He likes to engage in conversation with anyone who stops long enough to listen…he chatters on about this or that non relevant,random mumbo jumbo, asking all the girls if they’d please be his girlfriend.
There was (I’ve not seen him in quite sometime) the middle aged fellow with the mustache wearing a tank top and shorts who was alway carrying a throwback walkman, complete with head phones stuck on his head. He’d be singing at the top of his lungs, with fingers snapping to the beat, as he walked up and down the busy thoroughfares.
There was the young man with the long hair and his mother…or so we thought them to be mother and son.
Always together and having been know to hold hands…they had a tendency to worry and creep out those who saw them wandering all over town. I think the truancy folks once tracked them down because they enrolled the boy into the high school where I taught. That didn’t last long because the woman, his mother, waited at the front door of the school all day, very nervous and agitated.
He quit as quickly as he enrolled and they were seen walking again, carrying bags of this and that….
In addition to the regular characters, there are those individuals who seem to be merely passing through—drifting specters riding along the quiet breeze— those odder individuals who thankfully drift away as quickly as they came…as there’s just something unsettling about them.
So today, as I was driving to the post office, I saw her again.
A middle aged woman walking slowly up the sidewalk, on a less traveled road, carrying, or actually cradling, a white stuffed animal.
The first time I saw her, I thought she was holding a small dog.
I assumed she was walking to the discount grocery, perhaps to purchase some food for the animal…
but on closer inspection, when I was heading back in the direction I had come, I saw that the pet in question was actually stuffed.
I found myself wondering.
What in this woman’s life would prompt her to walk, very slowly yet very determined, up the sidewalk clutching a stuffed animal to her chest.
What has happened in this woman’s life that now finds her alone on a back sidewalk, walking towards a busy main arty leading to town, seemingly in a daze while holding something obviously very important to her.
All of which has me now wondering about all the characters who walk or ride or sit along each of our life’s journey.
So often we see them from afar… safely from a window of a car or business.
We either ignore what we see because something about them makes us feel uncomfortable,
or we smugly stare thinking how much better off we are than them.
As much as we try or would like, we cannot “unimagine” them into nothingness.
They are real, living, breathing individuals with a story…just like you and me.
Their lot in life may have once been what we’d consider normal…yet something tragically or simply oddly happened.
Or perhaps they have simply been less fortunate than you and me—having never had the support that we’ve received along the way.
We can often hear a voice within our heads repeating the mantra…
“there but for the grace of God go I…”
As we are thankful that we are not on the sidewalk talking to no one in particular,
or pushing a shopping cart full of plastics, or singing to everyone and yet to no one.
We are thankful we don’t have to clutch a stuffed animal as we walk alone up a lonely sidewalk.
Seeing these people does one of two things.
It either makes us feel uncomfortable as we try to ignore both them and how they make us feel…
Or, on the other hand, we allow their perceived misfortunes to oddly make us feel better about ourselves.
We allow the encounter to convince our inner selves that we’re not as crazy as we thought.
We’re not as bad off as we thought.
We aren’t as lonely as we thought.
As we now happily consider ourselves to be of the normal lot.
The good lot
The preferred lot.
The lucky lot…
We safely assume that we are better than.
But the question should be… are we?
Are we better, safer, happier…or perhaps are they?
Have we as human beings not been charged with the care and concern of our fellow man…
even those who are the quirky characters walking through our lives….
Rather than allowing their quirkiness and oddity to make us feel uncomfortable…
or arrogantly even better about ourselves…
what have we ever done once to help them….?
And then suddenly, out of the blue and on any given day, we actually take notice that “they” haven’t been around in awhile, haven’t been seen or heard…
we find ourselves oddly missing them.
We find ourselves wondering what could have happened to them…
And we wonder…
what could we have done…
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.