Many years ago, I was a Potter spinning lumps of earthy smelling clay into vessels on a wheel in a repurposed tobacco warehouse in Lexington, Kentucky. Out back, just past the brick-strewn kiln yard were old L&N railroad tracks and next to them grew a great Mulberry tree, the largest of its kind I ever saw. And, at a certain time of year, the great old tree would fill with mulberries so that the limbs bent and hung with ripe fruit. And then one day the children from the neighborhood would appear and ascend the tree until it was completely full of children ascending, descending, eating and collecting the ripe berries.
The children were bright, free and they would shout happily, teasing, laughing, joking, but helping one another for they knew the tree had more berries than they could ever collect. Their peals of laughter filled the air from early morning till dusk. Then they were gone until the next year. One glorious day, a day of bright sun, a day of joy and no thoughts of any evil to dampen their spirits, me working and listening to the music of their voices while I kneaded my clay.
What a beautiful metaphor for the Kingdom of God. Here we are, supposedly wise Christian people, fidgeting with our anxieties, hurrying to our jobs, worrying about our bills and the ridiculously high price gasoline; and there is the memory of that day when the sun shone so brightly reflecting sweaty little brown bodies of an entire Mulberry tree full of happy children.
All this confusion is a trick of the devil. People say “That's nice, but I must pay for this, I have to work, I have to get ahead. This is reality.” But those children were also real, the tree was real, the old tobacco building was real, all of it was as real as everything. It all existed in its time. The point is we see sometimes what we choose to see.
Yesterday, I was on the street on a similar afternoon. It is early June. The sky was crystalline, with a few clouds that looked like a painter painted them. I had a cooler of drinks, and I was giving them out to homeless people wherever I found them. I was standing with a couple friends chatting in the parking lot of the library. And as we went about our excursion the people we talked to were of every color, persuasion, and background. The common thread is that they are homeless, street people. But we saw no tears. They were all just hanging out in shady spots as the sun was very bright.
When I was a kid, we would walk the two miles, to Tacoma pool in Dayton, Kentucky on days like this. I would have a towel and a dime. Given the choice, I would take the dime. For a dime, I could get a Payday bar and a small Coke around noon. We had season passes. Playing and swimming all day long we were taught that the defense against the sun was to burn, and then you would peel, and after that the sun would not hurt you. Going home, you had to run or hop across the hot asphalt to cross in the streets. We were absolutely required to be home by dinner time. Scorched, blackened feet, smelling like chlorine, skin red and peeling, happy, exhausted, and hungry.
The homeless, as a whole, do not care much about matters of race, or any of the things that separate us. There are exceptions. They are human, after all. But there is generally a spirit of living together and cooperating, and most of the time a positive vibe. The street is like the Mulberry tree. There is food, shelter, and life. You must know where to find them. People learn survival skills. Mostly, they help one another. They live for today, it being all there is in reality. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6:34.
And, there is a laid back kind of inner peace most of the time. Even if you get arrested for public intoxication or some such petty offence. Everyone has to be somewhere. Twenty-four hours in jail means three meals and a cot as opposed to no meals and a bed of concrete.
The street is old. I believe that if you were in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, it would be very similar on that street. Beggars, cripples and old men and men born blind, the sick, the lame, all referred to in the Gospels. And even Jesus, “for the son of man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20. He walked those streets, healing. talking to people, announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand.
Probably every town with streets ever built or that ever will be built is the same at street level. And the people of the street are the same. Overcome the language issue and they all understand. They share a common knowledge.
The street is life. It ebbs and flows as the tragicomedy of human life plays out. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter, the poor are always with us. The strong and the weak, the wise and the foolish—they are as eternal as the street. But the rest of us suffer breakdowns over money, jobs, loves lost, fears of possibilities and dreams of time gone by. We lose ourselves in petty issues of day-to-day living, while each glorious sunrise and sunset passes almost unnoticed. No giggle-ouch of toasted feet, no passing a bottle of RC Cola, no sharing a candy bar with two friends for lunch.
But the street is filled with shouts and peals of laughter, and people just living. Like the Mulberry tree.