Rodgers & Hammerstein, and a guy named Shawn

I was early.
 
It relieves the stress of engaging society in something like attending a concert to be ahead of schedule. So early that while sitting in my parked car I checked my phone for the usual reasons, none of which warrants more than 2 or 3 minutes of the extra time I bought for myself.
 
 
So I decided to take a walk in downtown Tampa. It’s been awhile. I hadn’t been to the Performing Arts Center in probably 15 years, not realizing that until I later walked up the cobblestone entryway to the theater.
 
 
Leaving the car on the left side of a one way street, I walked to the next corner and took a left. In the shadows of a skyscraper’s front door canopy, a figure approached. I fidgeted with a loose button on my jacket sleeve, trying to appear unconcerned by preoccupation as we drew nearer each other.
 
 
He broached the silence by asking the time, and I obliged, having just looked at my phone in order to time my walk and get to the show on time.  “About 7:25,” I responded, moving past our parallel positions on the sidewalk.
 
 
“Can I ask you another question, plea’sir?” he queried in a familiar southern accent.
 
And he proceeded to describe his predicament, making sure to add that he was not among the homeless population of the city, nor to be suspected of other sinister plots, as I pivoted to face him. It was then he asked for help with the supposedly expected caveat that he was not “begging.”
 
He was “short” about $17 for a Greyhound ticket home.
 
 
I found myself strolling along with this stranger named by himself as Shawn to the nearest ATM. Funny he knew where the nearest was. He volunteered to step back, maybe 20 feet away, as I gathered the cash and traversed that same distance back to him.
 
 
I asked him for his phone number and put it in my phone, probably never to use it. He provided it willingly, and was on his way after I opened my hand with the $40 I had withdrawn.
 
 
To the bus station or the liquor store, I’ll never know. Just as I may never know his name is Shawn. It may have all served another purpose, this chance meeting. Beginning with finding myself smiling through the first half of the concert, I knew this was related to my recent thinking about this journey called “my life.”
 
 
In recent years, I have sought to rethink just about everything about life. Sad things have happened. Selfish things. Hurtful things. My life reminded me of an episode of “This Old House,” where sometimes they take on a remodeling project and the upgrades turn into an overhaul. Inside my head, new thinking was the project.
 
 
Specifically, I came upon a phrase that I had found to be an old default, one of those trite things I’ve never wanted to use anyway. And it is this- “Well at least I’m not…”, completing the justification by listing one thing or another from the past that in the light of the present should seem a relief to be rid of.
 
 
But this bothered me. A renewing mind was no longer satisfied with this once-approved cop out. For example, I live in Florida. I formerly lived in Rhode Island.
 
 
When the winter comes here, and should I be so inclined to complain about (which I am not), I might say, “Well, at least I’m not in Rhode Island!” And somehow the contrast is supposed to make me feel a 36 degree Florida morning in a different way.
 
 
Or if I wish to see my daughter, whom I haven’t seen in 4 or 5 weeks, I’m supposed to miss her less because “at least I’m not 1300 miles away anymore.” It’s not working for me.
 
 
One of the strategies I have for healthy and productive thinking is to rate such notions for what they are- bunk. And replace them with reflecting a newer awareness.
 
 
It occurred to me recently as I walked back from the break room to my cubicle after filling my gray “Big Bubba” insulated mug with ice and flavored water, that the replacement mantra might be, “In everything give thanks.” And that opens new doors.
 
 
Despite the sound of it (“everything”), it seems to me to be quite specific. Every single thing. And it follows that there must be someone to whom I render gratitude.
 
 
Without opening a theological discourse on the matter, the immediate view for me of this is that I can keep myself in the here and now rather than the there and then of life.
 
 
To have defaulted to that adage of the past, I make that thing that is the least good about today the bigger thing – winter in Florida is only slightly better than winter in Rhode Island.
 
 
The truth is, there is so much better about my life here and now than there was there and then. And my daughter and I are a lot closer than the difference between 1300 miles and 90 miles.
 
 
Shawn may be a professional homeless man who lives permanently in Tampa. He may very well have played me. But frankly, I don’t care. Because I am here, here and now, I’m closer to my children and my grandchildren. Closer than 1300 miles in many ways. And for that, I am grateful.
 
 
As far as I’m concerned, Shawn just got under the shower of blessing that is my thankful life.
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