Lincoln, Nebraska. I’m sitting in the outdoor area of Panera in the sleepy downtown across from an ancient theatre and a Starbucks. I have a book sitting on the table next to the computer, which is at the complete disposal of my Maya Angelou considerations. Of course I am devastated (but not surprised) by her passing, and as she has inspired me to do so much of what I have done in my life, I must put pen to paper about it.
While I cogitate, an older man walks by me with way too much pep to be called elderly. He sports a simple, long red t-shirt tank showing off an Eagle tattoo on an arm that still had some fraction of the big power it must have had back in the day. The baseball cap on his head reads "Functional Veteran."
“That looks like a good book,” he says, looking at the cover of Toss in the Ether.
I decide not to tell him it was mine, luxuriating in the affirmation. “I hope so. It’s a good read so far,” I say, indicating that I am on page 37.
“Man, I love to read, I go through lots of books. I sit over there and just read,” he said, pointing to what I thought was the Starbucks on the corner of 12th and P Street.
“Do you work over there sir?”
“I’m a panhandler,” he says. “I do Walgreens on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then I’m at the Smoke Shop on some of the other days. But I read a lot, go through a book a day, something like that. I see these college kids and they bring me stuff and we talk about it.”
“Wow,” I say, noticing the length of the ponytail and the warmth of his Santa beard.
“Yeah, I was in Vietnam. When He brought me home from Vietnam, I said I’m going to serve Your word with every person who wants to hear it, but You have to make them adhere to it. I can't do that part. So we deal with the Good Book a lot.”
“That’s good news, sir.”
“You’re not lost, but you will be found.”
He introduces himself, and as I shake his hand I am too stunned sorting out the moment to actually hear his name.
Perhaps it is Maya.
Perhaps this is both my blessing and an answer to my questions.
As he walks away, I realize he has identified himself as a panhandler with the same erection in his spine that any other person would have about his/her profession; service in Vietnam may have been sufficient. Panhandler. Yet he has asked for nothing, and given me everything.
Thank you Maya Angelou.
Thank you God.