Listen to the Podcast: Frenchwellness, Episode 1 — Messengers
The first thing I do every morning is put on a pair of camel hair slippers. These I bought from a street vendor in Uzbekistan more out of sympathy than because I wanted to actually buy them. The woman held a child with one arm and swatted at flies with another. Her pleading black eyes slashed into my heart and so reluctantly, I bought the slippers. Now I wear them every day.
After the regular face wash, I trade the slippers for running shoes. I run along the River Seine in Paris, through the Tuileries Gardens and around the Louvre. At heart I was raised a simple boy from small town Kansas. It’s incredible to run through Paris in the morning and equally dreadful in the evening when all of the tourists come out. Running is my cocaine. Each place I’ve lived I’ve found a running route that I thought was better than the last.
There are three homeless people on this running route who have become a part of my daily ritual. I can’t tell you if it’s a man or woman, but the first person I see washes their knotted up hair beneath a public fountain at the same time each morning. This person puts all of their belongings on a bench that becomes sort of a makeshift vanity. Soon he/she will move along and people will come sit on this bench just as any other in Paris, not knowing that it is an integral part of someone else’s day.
The second homeless person I see is a man surrounded by hundreds of pigeons. Each day he takes a baguette and tears little pieces of bread off to toss them to the pigeons around him. The man looks like a pigeon himself. It seems the richer that people are the more repulsed they are by pigeons. Many people would run away in disgust from what seems to be the only friends of this man. He looks happy and I’m glad that the pigeons are there for him.
The third homeless person is a bit mysterious. He sits beneath the north side of the Pont Alexandre Bridge and so I’ve come to think of him as a troll. He sits in the unlit shadows in what looks to be an uncomfortable position. Out of all three of these people that I encounter each day, I’ve felt the strongest connection with this guy under the bridge. He smiles at me, and I smile back and say hello. He responds in French and I continue running.
Eventually I began to feel guilty running by him each morning and decided that I should stop. I’ve been running by these three people for a year and a half and they have become the most dependable pieces of my day.
I decided I would stop to give this man a more formal hello on my next run. That morning I ran by the person washing in the public fountain, across the happy man with his pigeon friends and then I approached the bridge with the troll beneath it. He wasn’t sitting there, as he had been every other morning for a year and half. Nor was he there the next day. Now it’s been weeks and I haven’t seen him. This has burrowed a hole deep inside of me. I’m uncomfortable with his absence. I find myself thinking of this man throughout my day, wishing him well, just as I would for my brother or my best friend.
One of the places I lived before Paris was San Diego California. There were three homeless people on that running route as well. But they all sat together and one day I did stop to talk to them. I was lonely and they could sense it. We skipped the small talk or any pleasantries and dove right into talking about the larger things in life. I was ambivalent about moving back to the Kansas City area to be around my family or moving to LA to chase my dreams. With the most absolute certainty, these three homeless people advised me to head back to Kansas City for that next chapter in my life. My dreams could wait.
I’m glad I did. I met a girl I’m going to marry 6 months from today and I’m living a life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. After we met in Kansas City we moved to Paris and who knows where we’ll head next. I’m quite certain I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for the homeless trio in San Diego.
Maybe this is them again in Paris. Perhaps this whirlwind of a world has planted little messengers all around us. Maybe they are trying to tell us something.
It is time for my morning run. All I can ask is this: What message am I supposed to see from these homeless people, especially the man beneath the bridge who seems to have disappeared?