The next day I decided to visit Amelia’s art store and gallery with the intention of meeting her, and possibly learning more about what exactly happened back in the Father’s youth that led to a prison term. On the way there I observed something very remarkable that left a strong impression in my mind; subsequently, I heard several others who also witnessed the event share their differing point of view.
We have a relatively large number of people living on the streets in our town. One man spends most of his days in the square at the center of town; sleeping many nights on one of the benches that line the square, or else in the park across the street to the southwest. I’ve never met him but he is typically bundled up inside several coats, one of which hangs down close to his knees and covers most of the holes in his tattered pants. His shoes are torn and appear to have little or no soles any longer.
As I walked past the town square I first noticed Father Davidson’s bicycle, leaning against the back of a bench. His was the only bicycle I’ve ever seen with packages hanging from the frame so it caught my eye. On the bench sat the homeless man, with Father Davidson sitting on the ground at the man’s feet. He was smiling and laughing with the man on the bench as he pulled his left shoe off and put it on the man’s foot. I stopped to watch as he placed his right shoe on the man’s other foot and then laced them both up for the man. The old tattered shoes, he tossed into a nearby garbage can and then sat on the bench, and the two men continued to laugh together. I was struck by the humility of both men: one man willing to allow another to dress him, and the other willing to sit on the ground before the first. Next the two men embraced for a moment before Father Davidson got on his bike and rode away. My eyes were drawn to his bare feet as he pedaled down the street. For me, there was something very powerful and beautiful in those bare feet as I watched them go round and round before he disappeared around the corner.
As I walked past the coffee shop a moment later, I saw Lilian and Apollo looking out the window, and Dian was standing in the doorway. I smiled as I passed by, and she commented, as she gestured towards the bench with a nod of her head: “Some spectacle, and that’s why we have the homeless filling the park.”
“I thought it was very kind,” I replied.
“Yes, I know. He likes the attention. But it’s all for show. It’s not good for anyone, they need more than some shoes, but he keeps them coming. Word gets around and they come, more and more vagrants every day. They need more help, they can’t get it here in the park. Not good for business either. It’s a shame.” She shook her head in disapproval.
Then from inside the coffee shop: “Another morality play, huh, Dian?!” called Apollo and the three of them laughed.
“Brought to you by the good Father himself,” scoffed Dian. And they laughed again.
I wanted to defend Father Davidson to them, and also defend the act of humanity that he displayed just then on the park bench, but I felt it would be a waste of time. Slightly demoralized, I walked to Amelia’s store. Granted, the Father wasn’t going to solve the homeless problem simply by giving someone his shoes, but I don’t think he was trying to solve the homeless problem. Knowing what I did about Father Davidson I think he was only trying to solve one man’s shoe problem. Others may have wanted to turn it into a political or moral statement but I doubted that the Father ever intended it that way.
Inside Amelia’s I wandered the aisles looking for nothing in particular, while determining how to strike up a conversation with Amelia. Just then another customer spoke, “I saw your brother giving his shoes to that homeless guy on the bench. That was nice; but it’s kind of a waste of time isn’t it?”
“Why? I don’t think so,” answered Amelia. “Besides, he wasn’t just giving him shoes. It’s more than that, I think.”
I was interested in this conversation so I moved closer and grabbed something off the nearest shelf pretending to examine it while listening.
“Oh, I only saw him give his shoes. I didn’t see anything else. Still, you can’t help those people, most of them are on drugs or have mental problems anyway.”
Amelia rolled her eyes and sighed, “You’ll never get it, will you? My brother is just acknowledging them, showing that they matter. He gives them a little taste of family. That’s all.”
“Okay, okay. I get it. Just seems a little late for that, it’s not going to change any of them, if that’s what he’s hoping. I’m not saying he isn’t a good guy. It’s great he wants to give them his shoes, if that’s what he wants, it just doesn’t make any difference.”
“How do you know, Mark?! How do you know it doesn’t make a huge difference?! Did you ask them, did they tell you that?! I mean, I see you out there talking with them all the time, so you must know, right?”
“Okay, I’m sorry. Aim, it’s okay, we don’t need to fight about this. I’m sorry.”
“No, you ignore them just like everyone else does. You don’t talk to them, and you don’t find out what they think. You don’t know anything about them.”
“All right, I’m sorry. I just wanted to say hi, let you know I saw your brother. Just trying to be nice, that’s all. We can talk again another time. See you around, Aim.” Mark said as he backed out of the store and left.
I glanced up to look at Amelia and she caught me. Uncomfortably, I tried to look away but I then looked back at her, knowing I had been discovered. “I’m sorry about that. I agree he doesn’t get it. I love what your brother does.”
Amelia looked intently at me and said, “Oh, I know you. I’ve seen you, I’ve seen you down at the campfire sometimes, you know my brother.”
“Yes I do, I admire him. Has he always been like that, helping people? I can’t understand why Mark doesn’t see that.”
“Oh. Mark’s an idiot. I’ve known him since we were kids. He’s always been an idiot. We dated off and on. I guess I like idiots. Anyway, I’m Amelia and you are…?”
“Francis, nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. Sorry about that, what you just heard. Mark’s a good guy but he has never understood Josh. My brother. Well, sometimes it seems that nobody does.”
“He’s gotten some bad press it seems,” I answered. “Hard to understand.”
“People don’t want to forgive—some people—they don’t let go. They don’t believe that someone can change. They don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. They won’t empathize, will they? They won’t move on and let others move on. It’s not that hard to understand. But it is maddening.”
“Yes, true,” I nodded in agreement. “I know we’ve only just met, but can I be of help in any way? Can I help your brother? Or you?”
“He can look after himself. But it’s always been this way, and I guess it always will be. We’re fine. This town is too small though. Too many memories and hurt feelings. Things just got crazy a long time ago, a little out of control. I expected too much, I guess. We’re fine.” She smiled quickly, and turned to arrange some things on the shelf behind her.