Angel With an Attitude
by Christina Nordstrom
Well, he wasn’t there this morning, guess he had something else to do.
I was kind of looking forward to hear his point of view.
He’d tell his joke, he made me laugh, he went the extra mile.
And the sign that sat there next to him said, “It’s the law: SMILE”
The first time that I saw him, I quickly walked on by.
The next day I encountered him, he looked me in the eye.
I turned away, afraid to see; went on along my way.
Then I looked back as I walked on. His eyes had so much to say.
They were tired and full of aging, but the message still came through
as if he was some angel, disguised to look like me or you.
Maybe it’s some paradox, and, in reality, like so many other angels,
they’re invisible unless you want to see.
Next day when I saw him, I finally came prepared.
Some quarters that I set aside, left over from my fare,
were waiting in my pocket, hoping there he’d be.
It took a lot of gumption; this was something new for me.
He sat outside the church at Park Street right near the Park Street “T.”
He’d “set up shop” like he does most days, but, of concern to see,
another sign placed next to him said, “Homeless by Fire.”
I handed him the quarters, he said, “Thank you, Ma’am,” and smiled.
So I smiled and muttered something and then walked on my way,
and, as I went about my work, I thought of him all day.
What’s it like to be out there? And soberly I’d muse:
Could I really walk in his shoes?
He could be a character from Steinbeck living in some hard-luck tale,
but he also looked like “St. Nick” with his white beard and long hair.
But how dare I romanticize his grim reality?
I pay a price when I discount his full humanity.
The next day that I saw him, with two dollars more to spare,
I said, “I’m sorry for your trouble,” and, as I lingered there,
it occurred to me to ask him ‘bout his work in former times.
Said he was a coppersmith way back in his prime.
He worked on roofs and steeples [I’m sure a master of his trade].
He said that, of his people, he was the only one remained.
And illness now had taken hold, he had the “sugar blues.”
Then he relented, “Now, this is all that I can do.”
I asked him where he stayed at night. [I didn’t mean to pry.]
He didn’t mind my asking, and said he stayed in the subway.
“Do they give you any trouble?” He said, “Oh, no, not me!
It’s all about my attitude; they let me be.”
Then I asked him where’d he get his care? [Thought that I could helpful be.]
Said he’d found some friendly doctors over at Mass “G.”
They gave him drugs and insulin – shot up four times a day.
Living on his attitude, he didn’t have to pay.
He told me that he could stay healthy if he can only get some food.
Living in the streets like this, it was hard to test his blood.
But “table scraps” from garbage cans sustained him every day.
I wondered if he had the faith to pray.
For what it was worth I told him, said I could somehow empathize – I’d been out of work for half a year, but, lest I trivialize
his present situation; it might have been mine.
When there was doubt my hard times would ever end,
(with the help of some gracious friends)
there, but for the grace of God, was I.
There, but for the grace of God, was I.
You might ask, “What’s in it for you?” Or you might ask me how I know
that he isn’t trying to con me to buy smokes and alcohol.
The answer’s very simple, but, a paradox you see:
it’s kind of like forgiveness – I’m doing this for me.
Maybe I’ll see him tomorrow. I wonder what he’ll have to say.
Will he smile and tell the same old joke, or will he find another way
to live and keep on seeking his winter heart’s desire?
But, perhaps, that’s as an angel there beneath the Park Street spire.