Yesterday, I shared a table at a coffee shop with a man who has no place to call home. Because I was covered in Badger gear, he struck up a conversation about the night’s bowl game. When I asked about his Oregon Ducks hat, he responded that like most of his outfit, he found it so therefore wears it.
With temperatures peaking just above zero, I took inventory. His hat seemed sufficient, and his jeans and boots looked warm. His jacket, though, barely reached his wrists and was small and left unzipped. Underneath, he wore a Captain America t-shirt.
Wanting for him a warm place for as long as possible, I purchased a gift card that would fill his mug until closing. His acceptance extended our conversation and before it turned personal, he introduced himself. “I’m Kirk,” he said, taking my right hand in his left.
I learned that Kirk is a poet. Pages of hand written notes were spread out before him, carefully ordered and neatly folded. When I eventually stood to leave, he asked if he could share something with me. I answered yes and listened while he read aloud his most recent work.
“An unsheltered life is beautiful,” he began. Preferring a roof of stars over the trappings of a warm home, Kirk concluded by asking me about what he could possibly complain. He is, after all, blessed.
Upon saying goodbye, I counted my own blessings. Family, friends and a roof over my head made the list. Once home, though, I shook them off and searched for bottles. Looking through closets and drawers, I found instead a journal I gave Swenny the Father’s Day before he moved to a sober house. Hoping to find it filled with his reflections, I discovered a diary chronicling just three days.
Like Kirk, Swenny made note of his blessings and titled them as such. Among them he listed the luxury of a private room for at least one night, going to bed with a full stomach, and a day that ended with a text from me that read, “I love you.”
That journal is from a time when we believed the worst was behind us; from a time when we expected that by now we’d have moved on to other things. And while I wish we could have made true our dream of a life free from alcoholism, there is comfort in some of what remains unchanged. Namely all that we continue to appreciate and the unexpected reminders to take nothing for granted.
Before returning the journal to its hiding place, I added a new blessing to my list: Captain America. The everyday hero whose superpower is the gift of perspective. And whose cape I will seek to earn in the New Year.