Friday, August 12, 2011


         Yesterday afternoon, I had an experience that made me feel alive-it awakened my emotions. It was a moment that I hope to look back upon and be grateful to God for putting me in the place he had me. I had just gotten off the north bank of the Buttermilk trail, and was headed home on my bike via the Randolph community which is located just to the south of VCU's Monroe campus. I was on the final stretch of a short climb which leads from the buttermilk into Randolph when I looked up and saw a bearded man playing guitar under a large Magnolia tree overlooking the river. As I got closer I realized that I had met him on Wednesday at the Daily Planet. He called me over even before he recognized me, wanting me to listen to a Fleetwood Mac song he had just learned. When I took off my glasses, he then stuck out his fist for a pump and said that he remembered me from the day before. He asked me sit and listen to his new song which I had honestly never heard before, but it didn't really matter- I think he just wanted someone who would listen. When he finished playing his first song-he asked me if I liked country. I told him, of course, and that I also like bluegrass. He said, "Alright then, Michael, I'll play you a little grass. I've got a Bill Monroe song, I bet you've never heard". Sure enough, he then tore it up on his cracked Yamaha guitar which had dried glue spewing from its weather-worn face. For about the next twenty minutes, I sat back on the bench next to this beautiful Magnolia and took it in. With a cool breeze blowing off the James River, we exchanged glances- I could see his passion and pride coming through. As he played and sung songs by various country artists such as Travis Tritt, Rascal Flatts, and Willie Nelson, I watched a man who many would pass and label as "homeless" or "drunk", but to me, he was a man with a passion for music. A passion to show people that he mattered- that he had the ability to move people-to make them smile. And he did just that. At one point, I noticed a hospital band on his arm and asked him between songs if he had recently been admitted. He told me, "Oh yeah-I went in yesterday-thought I had a heart attack, but they let me go". Here he was, singing his heart out in ninety degree Richmond heat, having thought he had possibly had a heart attack the day before. Music is what brings him joy in life. He later on went to tell me that his guitar had been cracked when he knocked a guy upside the head for "wanting to take a piss on him". He thought he was going to get locked up for it, but the cops told him that they would have done the same thing. After he played about 5 songs, he asked me if I ever played. I told him I played a little and he asked me to play one for him, so I played him one I wrote-'Sunday morning blues'. I told him I needed to work on it some, especially if I was going to ever play with him- he said "No need to work on it-it sounds good the way it is".
     I could have stayed another hour listening to him sing, and at the rate he was playing songs for me, I think he could have stayed the whole night. Once again, it reminded me just how talented the homeless in Richmond are. I think at times, as providers, or community members, we forget (myself included) how much they have to offer back to us, and that is a shame. In this very situation, he was providing for me. He was giving me therapy I needed after a day in the office. He may not have realized what he was giving me, but it was an experience that I will remember and appreciate. One that made me smile and realize just how grateful I should be to be alive. I have been giving some thought to putting together a talent show that would serve as an opportunity for the homeless to give us-providers, community members, and friends-the therapy, the treatment we need.

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