The Beautiful Gate

One afternoon Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those entering the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked them for money.

Peter looked directly at him, as did John. “Look at us!” said Peter. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!”

Taking him by the right hand, Peter helped him up, and at once the man’s feet and ankles were strengthened. He sprang to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and leaping and praising God.

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

— Acts 3:1-10

 

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Tuesday Tuneup Twenty

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Does it matter?

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. You didn’t answer my question.

Q. Am I to provide the answers?

A. Yes.

Q. Then why can I only ask questions?

A. Because that’s how the answers come.

Q. Through questions?

A. Through questions.

Q. Such as?

A. Such as why.

Q. Why what?

A. Why not?

Q. What kind of an answer is that?

A. A frivolous one, I suppose.

Q. Frivolous? Or evasive?

A. You suddenly seem to challenge me. I would say — frivolous, and evasive. I did have a question looming in my mind. A question that begins with “why.” But it doesn’t end with the word “not.”

Q. Why not?

A. Because it’s deeper than that. And larger. And more germane to my recent struggles.

Q. What was the question?

A. The question was: “Why can’t I let go of past hurts, and enjoy the blessings of the present?”

let-goQ. Was that your question?

A. Yes, it was.

Q. Then why didn’t you ask it in the first place?

A. Because no sooner did I form the question, than I had already realized the answer. And then I didn’t need you any longer.

Q. But — but — what is the answer?

A. Ask me the question, and I will tell you the answer.

The Questioner clears his throat.

Q. Ahem.  Why can’t you let go of past hurts, and enjoy the blessings of the present?

A. I can.

Q. You can?

A. Yes, I can.  And, in fact, I have.

Q. You have??

A. Yes, I have.

Q. When did this happen? 

A. About a half hour ago.

Q. Are you trying to tell me that a half hour ago, you let go of past hurts, and began to enjoy the blessings of the present?

A. Yes.

Q. How did this happen?

A. It’s a miracle.  It’s the Miracle of Life.   The hurt was huge, and I prayed, and I prayed fervently, even after accusing God of never answering my prayer.  And then, I can’t explain it, but the hurt was lifted from me.  The hurt of an entire year or more, the way I was mistreated by — by someone whom I loved.   Somehow it was removed.  Completely removed.   And the whole world opened up to me.  I am no longer angry, or afraid.

Q. You aren’t??

A. No.  I’m not.   

Q. Will this last??

A. Does it matter?   All any of us have is today.

Q. But what about tomorrow?

A. We know not what it brings.

Q. And yesterday?

A. Gone.  All gone.

Q. Are you honestly trying to tell me that you have let go completely?

A. Yes.  And there are tears of joy streaming down my face.  All the anger: all the inner rage; has been replaced with inner peace.  This is one of the greatest days of my life.

Q. Then what more can I do for you?

A.  Not much, I’m afraid.  But I do appreciate your indulgence on this matter.   It’s just that — I have no further need of you — for now.

The Questioner is silent.  

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Handling Homelessness

The question was posed on Quora as to whether one felt one could “handle” a week of homelessness.  Here’s my answer.   

Being as I handled about twelve years of it, you’d think my answer would be “yes.” But having lived indoors for almost two years now in very favorable situations (first alone, then with a congenial partner), I would have to say that I honestly don’t know.

I feel as though I’ve been pampered by all the convenient luxuries of indoor living. I’ve been spoiled for so long that I’ve gotten soft.  At this point, I can’t claim that I could go back and handle even a single day of homelessness — let alone an entire week, let alone twelve years.

You see, things are different for me now internally than they were in the days when I successfully “handled” being homeless. Back then, I handled homelessness on the basis of believing that there was no way out. For the first two or three years, I kept looking for a way out, and not finding it.

homeless for a weekThen one day I had a revelation. I realized that I needed to embrace homelessness completely and learn how to deal with it on its own terms. Those terms included a silent hustle for day-to-day survival that easily consumed more than forty hours each week — in other words, the time consumption of a full time job. So I gave myself to the homeless experience, and I prided myself on how well I was handling it. But I did so in the spirit of believing that I had no other choice.

Now, however, I know that I do have a choice. That’s why I said that things are different for me internally than they were back then.  Now that I know for sure that there is more for me in life than to remain homeless for the rest of my days, I honestly don’t know that I could ever tolerate being homeless again. I wouldn’t be able to just shrug my shoulders and resign myself to its misery, like I used to. I would know that there was a way out, and I would actively seek that way out from the get-go, possibly to the exclusion of being willing or able to tolerate the homeless experience at all.

And there is, by the way, a way out. I am living proof of this. The way out may differ from one person to the next, but I can tell you for sure that there is a way. As I’ve shared here before, I was absolutely certain that I was going to be homeless for the rest of my days, and that I would die a meaningless death in a city gutter. That this did not happen, and I instead am poised to write these words meaningfully today, is not only a miracle in my own life experience, but a sign of hope for anyone facing homelessness at any level, for any reason.

So, while my honest answer to this question would have to be, “I don’t know,” it does lead to an interesting theme. Life is meant to be lived, to be fully embraced and received for everything that it is and possibly can be. Too often we consider our days to be drudgery and tedium, a general drain on our psychic reserves. I was only able to handle homelessness by embracing it completely. To be honest with you, it’s the way that I handle my present life of highly favorable indoor living, conducive in every way to the ongoing production of my creative work.

My years of homelessness have changed me completely. To my own estimation, I am a much more principled, purpose-driven individual than I ever was before I first became homeless in the year 2004. One way that I have changed is that I no longer see life as an aimless, shiftless shuffle, the way it seemed for so many years before. Life is this amazing gift from unspeakable, invisible life-giving dimensions far beyond our capabilities of human comprehension. As such, all life, whether homeless or sheltered, or on the battlefields for that matter, calls out to be appreciated as the incredibly colorful and fascinating mystery that it is.

So I think that in general, we need to escape the mentality of life being drudgery, something we can at best hope to “handle” or “survive.” Even homelessness was no longer misery, once it had been embraced. My choice right now is to embrace indoor living, with all its unprecedented benefits. If that choice ever changes, given all I have just said, I’m sure you’ll be among the first to know.

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An Incredibly Empty Place

As most of you know, I am a person who became homeless at the age of 51 in the San Francisco Bay Area during a midlife crisis of enormous proportion, after working for many years as an elementary school music teacher and private teacher of Piano and Voice on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula.  I struggled in and out of homelessness for the next twelve years, mostly on the streets of Berkeley, California.  For the past fourteen months, I’ve successfully maintained an apartment in a completely different part of the country, and have been gainfully employed throughout most of that time.   Still, however, I sometimes miss the allure of the streets.  I find myself wanting to “hit the road” — to chuck it all, to flick it in, to flip the switch — and to become homeless once again.   But when I read something like this short blurb I wrote in 2015, I remember why this might not be such a good idea.

An Incredibly Empty Place

Believe it or not, the streets used to inspire me. I used to feel free here. I wrote ten songs from the streets, arranged them, recorded them – here in Berkeley, in 2012, I wrote decent interesting music — while homeless. But now? They all recognize me. They see me on the streets.

Who’s “they?”   Whoever it is who assumes — is they, and not we.   Whoever stigmatizes is “they” — not we.   We know who I really am  — we who neither stigmatize nor assume.   But they?  They assume, because they see me on the streets, that I’m all about the hustle.  Then, if they are not on the streets, they look down upon me, as though I am a dirt bag, here to rip them off.  And if they are on the streets?  Then they assume I am one of them.  I’m supposed to have a hustle, supposed to have a game.  When they find I have no hustle, when they find I have no game, then they assume I am their enemy.  I then become a target.   I must be a nark, a snitch, a rat.  Why is Andy never in jail?   It can’t possibly be that Andy isn’t about committing crimes, can it?   It can’t possibly be that he wants nothing whatsoever to do with that game.   It must be that he is a police informant.  He’s going to turn us all in.  We better get that guy Andy — before he gets us.

I’m either one of them — or I am their prey.   And as for Music? What is Music?  As for Art?  What the hell is Art?  Isn’t life all about the hustle? About taking from people who have even less than you have? And feeling good about it at the end of the day? As though it were an honest day’s work?

But to write music — what is that? Does it make me any money? No — not yet, anyway.  Perhaps it never will.  But why is that the prevailing question?   Why is the question not whether I do another person harm?   Does my writing music intrude on others at all? No.   It does not.  Then why am I not left alone, as I once was, in 2012?   Because they think they know me now.  They think they know me — because they see me.    Whoever they are who assume, they judge the book by its cover.  Whoever they are who stigmatize, they see me, and think they know me.  In reality, they know me not.

Some of these hustlers don’t seem to think they can make any money in life without totally infringing upon the rights of others.  Their means of earning money involves invading other people’s space.  All day long I hear them: “Got fifty cents?  Got a cigarette?   A light?   A cell phone?   Can I sync my cell phone to your laptop?  How much you want for that “top”?  What do you mean, it’s not for sale?  Who the hell do you think you are?”

I had a guy who calls himself my “friend” con me out of my last BART ticket. I paid for that BART ticket with my own earned money. It isn’t easy to sit there with back up against the brick wall of that BART station, flying a sign all day, and and keeping my mouth shut long enough for somebody to “get it.”   I’ve had jobs that were way easier than that!  But I’ve got my pride.   You won’t hear the words “can you spare some change?” come out of me.  I don’t want to be like those hustlers.  I don’t want to intrude on people’s mind-sets, or invade their space while they’re rushing to get from one gig to another in the Mainstream.  The sign says it all.  

need a miracle

But I tell you – some of these people just get to me.  They have no respect for other people. They don’t respect me. I have no value to them except for what they can con me out of. I don’t need their food stamps, their marijuana, their attitude. I don’t need them. I tell them I’m hungry, they tell me I should give them my last two dollars. I would so love to be able to eat regularly – to eat real food without having to wait for hours in a line every day, with fights breaking out, with security being involved and police being called — I’m tired of it all. Down here, it is either assumed that I am a criminal or, like I said, it’s assumed that I’m a mark. I’m either a potential perpetrator or a potential victim. There is no in between.

How did I ever get myself into this irreconcilable mess?  I should be hanging around college professors, theatre directors, school principals, and parents of singing students and piano students!  Like I used to be!   I should be hanging around Actors and musicians and set designers!  Like I used to!  I should be hanging around playwrights and screen writers. Piano players, singers – composers like me. But I am exempt from hanging with people like myself.  Somehow, it does not happen. Somehow, I cannot climb out of this hole. It’s too deep. My best hope is to communicate – and keep communicating – until someone feels me.

Does anyone feel me yet?  Do you?  I am constantly visible. Constantly seen – by whom? By everyone.   And believe me – some people down here – that’s all they do is look.  Look, lurk, watch, wait — and lay in wait.  They cannot sleep at night — unless they have done somebody harm.

There are no walls around me. I have no roof over my head. I have no bed beneath me. I am vulnerable – through visibility. And I am associated with all those who are similarly vulnerable – through visibility. Many of whom are violent. To find identification, I look to pimps, hustlers, hookers, and drug dealers. Why? Because they live in the same world that I do.  We have that in common.  I smile and laugh and joke in the presence of people of whose lifestyles I disapprove.  Why?  Because it keeps me from getting the crap knocked out of me, day after day after day.

And yet, through all of those smiles and all of that laughter, through all of the identification, the unusual common ground, the ground that validates us, that separates us from those who live “inside,”– throughout the foundation of our amazing common dignity, the buck always stops when the fine print is read.   And the fine print said:

I’m sorry, bro, but I really don’t want to distract that guy while you steal his bicycle.  I mean, I’m sorry man, but I’m just not into it.  I know you just turned me on to a bud of great medical weed.  I know, I know, but still, but still . . . 

How does one convey that just because one does not desire to partake in a criminal activity, this does not mean that one is the enemy of those who do?   At least five times a week, I have to look into the shocked, threatened eyes of someone who has just realized that I simply have no desire to commit a crime. No desire to steal from anyone. No desire to do someone bodily harm or psychic damage in order to obtain what I want for myself.

At that point, our common dignity means nothing. I am only an easy mark. My personality means nothing, really. And so, nobody recognizes me for who I am. It’s an incredibly empty place to be.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
June 15, 2015

 Anything Helps!
God Bless!