Chad Gerlach: I Gave Him My Favorite Rock
...I was walking into Safeway...
The rain was pouring down, the wind, incessant. I was cold, pissed off, and tired. (Again.)
As I began to grab a cart...I see this young homeless guy...he's all unaware I can't hear him...
And...for whatever reason...I didn't just keep walking...or say, "No, sorry--" like I might.
These are people...
I rip out one of my ear pieces...and he's asking for some spare change.
I looked him straight in the eye...and I said, "Why are you out here, dude?"
And he says, "Uh, I dunno."
And I said, "Honestly...what's your drug of choice, man?"
And he looks straight back at me and says, "Crack cocaine."
I began to mention different programs within a five mile radius...soup kitchens...NA meetings...
and he simultaneously (and systematically) shot down each and every idea with an excuse...
(it was like tennis...but different.)
I seem to recall him asking me again if I had any spare change...
(Well, fact is: my change purse is filled with still life. No shit. I have a plastic frog, several small rocks from night hikes, a red sequin, a blue thread of yarn...trinkets from days gone by... mementos from fun times...whatever.)
(And, actually, when I couldn't tip this cool barista at Starbuck's one time, I offered my purple plastic ant...and they we're all thrilled as I dropped it into the tip box.)
I only give away one of my little trinkets when truly pressed by someone.
And just then I had an idea.
I informed Chad I couldn't give him cash...but I did have something I thought he would really like.
I began to dig in my purse to my coin zipper...it was caught on the thread...but I was making some progress. He eagerly asked..."What is it, anyhow?" And I said, "Oh, you'll like it. It's a rock. I think you'll really dig it--"
I finally get the damn thing unzipped, grab the rock and look into his smiling face.
I extend my hand and place the rock into his outstretched palm. I smiled, awaiting his response, shoulders back...breath held.
His smile fades for a second. Then he leans forward, looks me straight into the eyes, and says, "You're a real f**kin funny person, aren't you?"
And, you know, it was just a rock. So, maybe he didn't get the coolness of it...I thought.
It wasn't until I was about a block from home that I began to piece together our entire conversation.
...a couple of months ago, he approached me at Chevron. I was pumping gas, and he just appeared out of nowhere.
He didn't remember me from the prior encounter we had had at Safeway. And, as before, he hit me with the, "any spare change," grumble. He was monotone...his eyes looked tired...his face was dirty...his demeanor: broken.
I definitely remembered him...as I had the intense realization of myself being a total dumbsh*t cemented with his face.
I looked at him for a nanosecond and exclaimed, "I can't believe you! I already gave you my favorite rock!" And he actually physically reacted to my statement...as if I was hurling a flaming dart in his direction. He then squinted at me, thought about it, and slowly smiled, "Hey, I love that rock!" And we laughed.
I again mentioned different programs near by...and he again walked away waving one hand, and shaking his head.
When I got into the car, a friend of mine said, "Hey, I know that guy."
And I was all, "What? Did he hit you up, too?"
And he's all, "No. He was on the 2002 U.S. Postal Team with Lance Armstrong."
And I'm all, "What?! No, come on."
And he's all, "No. I'm serious. That guy was like number 2 in the country."
And I'm thinkin that since my friend is some huge bicycle enthusiast, he's projecting cycling onto everyone and everything he encounters.
So we go back to my place and look up the team. Hard to tell who's who. So...the matter dies.
Until last week.
I'm walking, head down against the pelting raindrops, into Safeway. And there's Chad.
Lonnnnnnnng time no see. And he does the spiel. And I looked at him.
I had forgotten all about him...and the rock incident...and all that...and I said, "Dude. Were you a cyclist?"
And he appears ashamed, head down, swiping the pavement with one foot. He barely raises his head, with one eye open as the rain hits his face, "yeah."
Then he bursts into a volley of coughs. "I've been real sick."
And I said, in my motherly tone, as I neared the store,"When are you gonna stop doing this? You need to get back to cycling. My friend recognized you...he said you're famous. What's your last name? I'm gonna look you up."
I was walking into Safeway when our conversation was put on hold. I thought he'd be long gone by the time I exited that place, some 45 minutes later.
From behind a building pillar, he emerges, singing... "I love myself better than you, know it's wrong...what can I do?"
I was suspended in this moment.
Cobain. The truth in his lyrics...these lyrics...and Chad is not a lost cause. This guy.
Being enslaved to drugs. Hating yourself for being your own worst enemy...yet fighting so hard to have a life. The depression, the desperation...the questions and judgement from people.
My exact conclusion to the judgement I receive from people is this:
And, your evaluation, opinion, and declaration of me holds no weight, as I am not subjecting myself to your evaluation, opinion, and declaration. If I want input, I'll raise my hand.
No one knows another person's exact struggles and conflicts better than that person. External behavior and decisions aren't necessarily an indication of a person's nature, character, or lack thereof. Sometimes, a person's outward behavior, and external appearance, are more of a symptom. A symptom of an underlying condition...drug and alcohol induced, or otherwise...a tenable symptom, nonetheless.
In which, judgement is never a solution. As it is almost always uninformed, unfair, and unjust.
There is One Judge. And none of us are Him.
So. In this season of giving, and thankfulness, and all that...I am reminded of my fellow humans.
I am grateful for the experiences in my life, which have enabled me to fully understand their struggle. And it's hell. Selfish, arrogant, irresponsible...yes...but also a trap, a snare, and a continual ripping on the heart and soul...to such an extent, death seems the only peace available.
Not surprising so many find their escape there...
I stood looking at Chad. I began to gently nod, "Cobain." I whispered. He nodded and softly spoke, "I miss him."
A while back, I was telling a friend of mine that I really missed the way life used to be for me. During times of the most excruciating pain and suffering, I enjoyed believing "it would all be okay, someday." I held onto that fact for so long, amidst so many tear filled days and nights...And now, it's like, today has become "someday,"...and it's hard to look forward to things being "better," when things are actually quite great.
And, it's true.
For me, there is no sadness without hope.
I leaned toward Chad and said, "I miss the comfort in being sad."
This guy. He's on my heart and in my prayers. His life, his choices. But that doesn't mean I can't care. I can't help but care. And I hate that I can't impart to him what I've learned. Save him from the torture, from the desperation...the loneliness and hopelessness...give him some reason to hope...
But truths this deep only come to those who live through them.
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