SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 179: Listen and Not Look

It is 8:00pm on a very chilly and foggy weeknight, the Promenade is buzzing with people of character and great diversity. From street performers to locals to tourists the boulevard is just beginning to energize in readying itself for the nights progression.

And after 178 days of wandering for strangers I see it as a heaven-sent change of pace to be circulating in a highly bustling area, The Third Street Promenade, a Santa Monica central point for shopping and dining.

Even though the evening air is brisk and filled with the moisture of coastal dew, the atmosphere is warmed by the ebbing movement of man and sound; so when from amidst the wandering chaos appears to me a voice, “Sir, are you a registered voter?” I halt my quest for stranger in opening a 365 hand of friendship to an unknown solicitor as he works to acquire signatures to support upcoming voting initiatives. A very tough thing to do in the 2012’s. Times where so many of us are continually bombarded with unrequested sales calls, spam and the ongoing assault of door knocks and excuse me’s. Plus, in my own journeys I have developed a soft spot for anyone who has the courage to reach out to strangers with any legitimate request.

“What’s your name?” I ask as I am brought up to speed on issues ranging from the FDA to education to the environment.

“Josh,” my new friend answers.

He and I decide to grab a seat by a nearby planter to review the list of ballot items he has on his clipboard, as well as engage in a conversation of life and personal histories.

Josh has had a hard life… felony convictions, alcoholism and past of pain and violence. His perspective is dark, but as he speaks the importance of family and of protecting the children rises to the top of his priorities.

“We have to protect our kids,” Josh boldly postures. He has a zero tolerance rule when it comes to protecting the innocence and virtue of the child. Again boldly and obviously from the heart, “I advise us all to be vigilantes against child molesters.”

Josh and I speak of recovery from addiction and the pain of overcoming its evil grasps. “I’ve seen demons,” he tells me. Words that I’ve heard often from many of my 365 friends who are in the depths of addictions or on the path to recovery.

I ask Josh if he has any words of wisdom for us. “Can I answer that with a question?” he requests.

“This is your time Josh, you can answer any way you like,” I inform.

He advises us to consider, “If you had three wishes, what would they be?”

“Do you want to hear mine?” says Josh.

And his answer is peacefully dark.  Peacefully Dark? That’s a very strange set of words to link… “I know. But they truly describe the safe feeling that emits from Josh.”

Yet, I am saddened by his dreams, “I’d like to know if there is a way to die a three-way death. A death of not only my body, but a death of my spirit and soul. I don’t trust that I’m going to heaven, and I don’t even believe in heaven or hell. I believe we have a Creator, but no one really knows what will happen when we die… and I don’t want to be part of if.”

Now, I have no idea of the pains Josh has lived through, nor do I judge him for his outlook. Whatever has brought him to this place in life is not mine to carry. What is important is to do whatever I can to understand him as a person.

My perspective on the thought of where we go after death? I have hope for where we are going and nothing in this life happens for naught. Be it tragic, or be it glorious… all experiences in some way or another can bring us light and move us forward.

We have spoken often of tolerance and compassion, and of learning to accept each other for who we are and to do what we can to pass it on.

I tell Josh of some of my past dark times. Times that were not quite as deep as Josh’s history, but dark enough to at least help us to see a little commonality.

“I’ve had times that I’ve felt similar to you, but I promise if you hang on, a light will appear,” I reveal to Josh, and now you know that too.

I cannot say for certain that we wholly agreed, but non-the-less, Josh and I find a union in a momentary voice of friendship.

Josh, stretches his shirt, “This is my family; my grandson David, my step daughter Ester, my daughter Anna and sons Elijah and Erik.”

The picture becomes clearer. True… Josh has led a difficult life, but in his soberness of thought for the children and through his uncertainty of what is to come after this life, I see a man who is searching for a better world and questioning his own place in it.

Apparently the world has hit Josh hard in some way. However, he is here. Raising children, sober and doing the best he can to support them.

Can any of us who have not walked in the footsteps of Josh accurately say how we would cope in a life after prison and addiction?

This is a cruel world at times. The news shows that to us every day. In the media and life we witness some of the most hideous atrocities. But at the end of the day, we also see many great acts of kindness and growth in humanity.

My take away from meeting Josh… He has humanity and is a survivor with a purpose… and that purpose is his children.

Any man who proudly bears the names of his kids on a tee-shirt and hold the strongest concern for their future is good in my book.

Per his hope for what is to come… Josh, we wish you a life full of peace and may the darkness dissipate.

Josh is a provider, eight bucks a signature… I sign them all.

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