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Richard, the artist

Approx. read time: 3:30 min.

I just did something I’m not supposed to do. I shook the hand of a stranger.

It’s not that he’s a stranger. But physical contact with just about anyone these days is, well, not encouraged.

I’m walking out of my little downtown market with fresh produce in my backpack, and a jug of milk, three apples, and a bag of rice in two canvas bags. It’s Sunday. The vibe downtown is relaxed.

Near the entrance to the store, on the street in the space reserved for bicycles, I see a worn-looking man in a wheelchair. His neatly written sign tells me he’s a Veteran, and Would Appreciate Any Help.

I bet he hasn’t had much to eat today. So I set my feet in his direction.

Hello, I say. He is absorbed in laying thick vibrant colors on a stiff piece of paper. He is creating a work of art. He looks up.

He has, I notice, a worn and kindly face. Tired eyes, unassuming. 

Hello, he says to me.

How are you doing today? I ask.

Oh, not that bad, he says. Although I’m pretty sure that it’s not that good.

I pause.

Have you eaten today? I ask. 

He mumbles something, not wanting to admit flat out that he hasn’t. 

It’s the start of an honest conversation.

I have already given away the two fresh-ground peanut butter sandwiches which I brought in my backpack. So I say, “Can I fetch you a sandwich from the market?”

I keep money in my wallet specifically for moments like this. Money that friends have given me, specifically for moments like this. It’s called “Maria’s Sandwich Fund.”

“Oh, that would be very kind of you,” he says.

“Something with meat and cheese?” I ask. Yes, that would be very good.

“My name is Maria,” I say.

“My name is Richard,” he replies. Instinctively, hand reaches out for hand. 

He takes mine in a courteous, courtly manner. With his other arm he hoists himself out of his wheelchair and onto his feet. As if to say, I honor this encounter.

Richard is of slight frame, his muscles hardened from a life of hard work. His mass of longish darkish hair frames his dark eyes. His hand is leathery to the touch.

“Richard,” I say, “don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back with your sandwich.”

As I turn toward the entrance to my little market I pray … Dear God, let there be sandwiches, one with meat and cheese. There’s a chance there won’t be sandwiches today, this being Sunday.

Sure enough, no fresh sandwiches. “But we have pre-made vegetarian sandwiches in the refrigerator case,” the deli worker says, pointing to the cooler beside me.

Vegetarian, I cringe. I promised Richard meat and cheese.

Miraculously my eye falls upon a sandwich labeled Italian. Meat! With, I notice, a nice layer of Provolone.

“Richard,” I say when I return, “we scored!”

Well, he is appreciative.

His half-sheet canvas is all but completely slathered in rich color—cobalt blue, intense yellow, vivid green, burnt orange.

“Is this the McKenzie River?” I ask.

“No, it’s the lush northern part of Arizona,” he says.

“Was that home for you?”

He tells me he was born and raised in Scotland, family moved to Arizona, he worked on three fishing vessels, he owned one of them, two capsized, one off the coast of Alaska, wounded three times in Vietnam, knifed seven times.

“I’ve worked hard all my life,” he says.

Richard easily shares these details of his life, though looking down all the while. 

Like everyone, he wants to be known.

“All I want to do is work,” he says. “I want a job. I want to work.”

“The right work is waiting for you,” I tell Richard. “And, you are an artist,” I say.

“Not really,” he says. “My mother was an artist.”

“You have a way with color,” I tell him.

What I really sense is that drawing and painting with these vivid-color markers is Richard’s entry into a remembered time and place that is healing for him. Color is his heaven. Art, his consolation.

“Richard,” I venture, “I am a person of prayer. May I pray for you today?”

He lights up. They always do when I ask this. Unlike me, with enough of this world’s goods, the poor welcome the riches of the kingdom of God. It’s their inheritance.

So I’m on my knees, this Sunday afternoon, telling my Lord that his well beloved Richard needs worthy work. He needs the right connections, some doors to open. He needs a life that still has his name on it: Richard, from Scotland. Fisherman, war veteran, hard worker.

Richard, the artist, my friend …

Who is waiting for your hello?

I’d love to hear from you!

Photo credit: Colored markers, Pixabay

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