Last week I stepped on a bus in Westwood. Immediately I looked around for a seat, but none were available. As luck would have it, someone jumped up and rushed to the door before it closed. I took the seat before someone else claimed it. Once I was settled in my seat, I reached for a book. It’s the beauty of taking public transportation instead of driving my car: I get to catch up on reading, which I haven’t done much of over the past year. My eyes drifted to two men seated across from me. They were surely in their 70s. They looked healthy for men I would assume were homeless or semi-homeless. While they didn’t reek of the odor one might commonly smell from those seen much too often around L.A.–with their loads of possessions packed tightly in various shopping bags–the two elderly men wore soiled clothing. One man had holes in both knees of his jeans exposing healed as well as recent scars. Both men looked tired. You notice the tired when you’re no longer young. The tired have a look. At some point one’s life story begins to manifest in myriad ways–from how one walks, talks, or just the demands life puts on the spirit begins to reflect in aging eyes.
How many miles had both of these men walked? What misfortune turned their lives around and had them travelling through Los Angeles with bags containing their worldly possessions, wearing clothing archetypical of those living on large urban city streets? What happened between the life that I feel confident they once had when they most certainly didn’t look tired, to now carrying three or four bags that endorsed the 99 cents store and Trader Joe’s. I would trust there was a time in which these men were able to walk into a Trader Joe’s and purchase food. No one would have noticed them. No one would have judged. Unquestionably, their presence would go noticed should they walked the aisles of Trader Joe’s today, even if they had money to purchase the food on the trendy market’s shelves.
Occasionally, as I read my book, I would look their way. I didn’t want to stare. I remember as a child my mother saying that staring is rude. That has stuck with me through the years. Yet and still, I would find myself looking their way each time I turned a page of my book. By the time we reached Beverly Hills, a stone’s throw from Westwood where I started this bus ride, I began to contemplate what a life like theirs means in the larger Plan? What is God up to in terms of these two men? What is the Universe using their lives for? Quite frankly, I’ve often questioned the quality of life when it’s framed inside perpetual struggle. Intellectually, I understand there’s the possibility these two elderly men don’t see their lives in the way I see their lives–from the outside.
It’s not as though my belief system is that life is solely about 24/7 joy and unending abundance. No one has that life. However, what’s the divine meaning of these two tired men? I trust that they have a Purpose that I don’t understand as a naïve spiritual being. My belief is that every life works for the greater good, and all sentient beings are spiritually linked. Yet I am not certain I know, in their case, if they are living or existing. Someone I was once involved with said to me, “You ask too many questions.” I was bothered by his perception of me at the time. But I am starting to agree with his opinion, more and more these days. It’s rare I recognize this kind of curiosity in other people; although it’s not to suggest “other people” don’t care.
Other than the bus driver, I doubt anyone noticed the two men sitting in the front of the bus. And while I believe it would have had more to do with their appearance, it likewise would have had something to do with their age. Very few regard the elderly. And I would also suggest their appearance went ignored because they appear to the average person, two old men who serve no purpose.