Leathered and lined, his face hints a story of life knocked hard. I think "those incredible blue eyes of his are almost a waste," and immediately I'm ashamed of the thought. They're perfectly matched pools of turquoise.
Of course, I know he's homeless, and he knows I know, and at first I speak to him out of pity or some pious sense of obligation. I have a hard time not noticing his teeth–has he ever seen a dentist or has it just been a matter of years?–but his shirt is clean and tucked, and I can tell he spent time getting ready. I wonder where he showered.
He was always one of the earliest arrivals to our class; I suppose that's the real reason I struck up a conversation with him. Had my girlfriends been there small talk would over flow with kids and commitments and sincere-but-seldom carried out promises of "getting together s-oo-n". Instead, I learned Rick's wife had died weeks after their wedding day, decades ago, and he had never remarried, never had children. I learned he served in the military. I learned he was a short order cook but kids didn't like to work with him because "I make 'em work too hard."
One week Rick told me he wrote poetry and that he was an artist.
The next week he showed me.
He says, "You know how I told you I like to draw?" He pulled a double folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket. "Well, here's something I drew."
The casual observer probably wouldn't see what I see. I know Rick stays near the mountains and this is likely what he sees every day.
He wasn't done. "I wrote a poem, too." Out comes another folded piece of paper, chicken scratch on an old church notepad.
Or was it much more than that…a simple reminder to open the books whose covers I judge? A lesson learned every day in childhood, but sometimes forgotten as years obscure our view.
Rick had no idea what he was teaching me.