“I don’t know, I’m shy,” he expresses, as he looks me directly in the eyes.
I see him on the horizon. Walking towards me through an open parking lot. He is clean, relaxed and seemingly focused as he gathers cans off the asphalt. I’m curious, maybe even a little apprehensive to step in his space–seeing that he is deep into the music of his mobile device–but nevertheless, I’m undeniably curious. What’s his story, why is he canning and what lesson can he teach me?
I do my best to not profile, pushing myself to open my mind. I set path in his direction–working to drop any preconceptions–for to create any would be far too easy, predictable and self-isolating. I get within feet of this unknown man. “Good morning, my name is Richard Radstone. I am a photographer and film maker…” I begin my spiel.
He pauses his effort, pulls out his ear buds and begins to pull away. “I don’t know, I’m shy,” he expresses, as he looks me directly in the eyes.
We chat generalities, and after few minutes he agrees not to a video interview, but to a short recorded conversation and a couple of snap shots.
His name is Sean and although brief in words there is depth in his experience and a certain wisdom beneath his reserved council.
We start of with the generics thoughts. “Be happy, plant more trees, hang out, have fun. Do anything, just get out and turn off the TV.”
All topics we have embraced and heard by a vast majority of our 365 friends; and please, don’t think I am noting these subjects as dismissible or common. Quite contrary, they are statements that live at the very center of the emotional DNA of many a balanced individual. We must have joy. It is an important part of this life experience and a center stone to our overall health. For most it is a feeling that is regularly attainable; yet for some, its warmth can fall darkly into distant shadows.
Sean laughs. There is a light within him. But after a very short time knowing him, he loosens his walls in revealing the less than pleasant times of his life, and he has lived through some very serious hits. Experiences, that as he opens up in sharing with me of his trials and lessons learned, that drive me to be humbled in the acceptance of my own hardships and history.
In respect to Sean’s privacy, I have pledged not to publish exactly what he has revealed to me. But I can tell you this. He has earned the authority to speak of his observations of the world.
“A few years ago I just realized that everyone is always pissy, not so much here, but in Van Nuys, it’s bad.” He holds back a reserved chuckle.
“I get screamed at sometimes. I’m not homeless. I’m just jobless.” Sean gestures to the two bags of recyclables he has collected.
“You get people like that. I guess I’m not really helping out either, other than picking up stuff off the streets,” he questions.
Four years ago Sean’s life was turned sideways, when due to circumstances and his actions, he found himself under arrest. Shortly there after, fired from his janitorial job. “I have not been able to find a job after that.”
“I think at the last job I applied for they told me they look at that record for about 7 or 8 years.”
Bottom line, Sean is a little out of luck when it comes to finding meaningful employment, and although the conditions for Sean’s arrest brought up major issues in his marriage, he is open to say, “I treat my wife better today than ever, and even though I am still not working, we are still together.”
“I think the sun talks to me,” Sean shifts subject. A thought that might send some running for the hills in fear; thinking, “this guy is crazy!” But Sean is as aware as it gets.
“When I tell people that the sun talks to me, they don’t understand me.”
I decide to clarify. “How do you hear the sun?” I ask.
“When I walk into the sunlight, thoughts just start coming into my head. They are in my own voice, but it’s never what I am thinking about,” he describes the process.
This guy is crazy? I think not. Perhaps he is even more in-tune than many. I have to agree, there is certain energy in sunlight. Evident in more ways than merely the vitamin D it stimulates our bodies to produce. Its brightness is something that can be more than skin felt as it loosens our stress and allows our mind to soar. We’ve all sensed it, that unexplainable inner warmth, even peace: A heat that penetrates deeper than the literal UV it radiates into the atmosphere.
Sean is of little words, and after only a few minutes of getting to know him, it feels as I’ve met another human who’s life experience, although foreign to mine, is helping me to be a better person.
We are all so vastly different. That is the magnificence of this human experience. Some of us are fragile, others immovable in our convictions. But at the end of the game, might we look forward to pondering one grand premise: Were our eyes open to each other and we traveled the journey?
Sean, I thank you for the illumination, you’ve taught me well today.