Saint Henry
The other day I sent an email through Help A Reporter Out (HARO) that asked for "a story about an encounter with a houseless person that changed your perception about those less fortunate." As I wrote it, I realized what a spiritual experience it was so I figured I'd share it here as well:
When I'm in Washington, I go to one of my local parks nearly every day to work at the coffee shop in the center of the park. It's an absolutely gorgeous place right on the water that is connected to another part of town by a long "boardwalk" on concrete pillars elevated over the bay (see the attached picture). I'd park my car at one end of the boardwalk and walk across to the park to get some work done.
At the end of the walk, there's a gravel trail with several benches at the foot of a large hill/cliffside that shades the benches from the sun. On one of those benches, sat a bearded man with a small cardboard sign labeled "Free sports cards" with several vintage baseball and football cards on display.
As long as it wasn't raining, this guy was always there.
For the longest time, I walked by and didn't pay much attention to him based on the stigma of unhoused people. But the more I saw him, the more curious I became.
One day, I was feeling generous. I had just received my COVID stimulus check and when I walked by him I thought, "I'm going to buy him out and make his day." So I went to the ATM, pulled out $100, and walked to talk with him. He was very nice and gracious, we had a good chat, and he told me that, although he was homeless, he had a storage locker filled with cards and it was the best way he could make a few extra dollars each day.
As I walked away, my personal self was very proud of the good deed I had done. Those cards are still sitting in my closet at home.
From that point, every time I walked by him, he greeted me with a loud, happy, "HEYYY!" and we'd talk from time to time. This guy was always so kind and positive, I couldn't help but think that I'd never be able to keep that kind of positivity if I were in his situation.
If I didn't see him at his bench, I'd often see him in the coffee shop early in the morning drinking a coffee that I noticed he always paid for. The coffee shop had a loyalty points card that I always used with my purchases, but since I only drink simple black coffees I never used my points. When I realized my card had over 100 points on it, I decided to give the card to him so he could get himself a few free drinks. Once again, he was very grateful, my ego patted itself on the back, and we carried on with our day.
A few days or weeks later, I was sitting in one of the leather chairs in the coffee shop with my eyes closed meditating. When I opened my eyes, a big stack of cards was sitting on the table next to me.
Later in the day, I'd often see him sitting at the bus stop up the street with a bag of all his belongings, headed to wherever he laid his head at night.
Several times I thought about stopping to give him a ride, but for some reason, I never did.
We never interacted beyond a surface level and I never even asked his name, but I always felt a sense of upliftment when I saw him. The fact that I didn't get to know him better is something I now regret, and here's why...
Back in March, this kind man was found dead in that same park. Someone had shot him several times and thrown his body into the bay before he washed up on shore the next morning. When my mom sent me an image of the announcement made by the police (see below), I was in Europe and it was very late at night. I lay in bed with a pit in my stomach, feeling as though I had lost a distant friend.
As it turns out, his name was Henry.
The police made the announcement because they were searching for witnesses and anyone who knew anything of Henry's family. I don't think they found any of his kin, but I do know they found a public outcry of all the people he had spoken with over the years. It was amazing to see the hundreds of comments from people who had experiences similar to my own. Every single one of them was positive and every single one of them was heartbroken by the tragedy.
One that I remember in particular said something along the lines of, "He would never accept anything for free. He always insisted on exchanging for some cards."
Since no one knew Henry's family, someone took it upon themselves to create a Go Fund Me to collect money for a memorial service. Once again, hundreds of people showed up to that service and everyone decorated his bench with flowers, sports cards, and other mementos.
In one of my favorite talks I ever heard Micky give, he mentioned that anyone who stayed committed to the path for long enough would eventually become "a beacon of light."
Henry was a beacon of light.
I have no idea if he was spiritually oriented, but that doesn't matter. He raised every person who passed before him with nothing more than a smile, some kind words, and a few trading cards.
I listen to nearly every single talk Micky gives. I wouldn't be surprised if Henry had never heard Micky's name. Yet, he lived in alignment with the teachings in a way that I've only been able to aspire to.
When I'm confronted with Life's challenges, I often think to myself, "What would Micky do?"
Maybe I should also start asking myself, "What would Henry do?"
Rest in peace, Saint Henry.
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Michael Cahill-Manchester
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Saint Henry