Friday, October 16, 2009


Ever have one of those moments that just makes you go "WOW"? One of those times when it seems that the planets have all aligned, the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place, and some higher power is trying to tell you something? I had one of those today. I have had a brutal week at work. My job takes me all over Washington, DC, usually by means of public transportation and good ol' shoe leather. My scheduled was jam-packed all week long, meaning I had to accomplish all my paperwork at night, after normal business hours. Add to that family responsibilities, a little time for my writing, the baseball playoffs, and that didn't leave a whole lotta time for sleep. Oh yeah, and it's been cold and rainy for like the last 3 days straight. So today I was trudging down the sidewalk from the Metro stop toward the State Department, hunched under my umbrella in the pouring rain, feeling pretty cranky and snarky, when I saw something that actually made me stop and smile. My trek to State takes me through the campus of George Washington University. I've been making that walk for the past 5 years, and for as long as I can remember, I have encountered a homeless man sitting on a milk crate outside one of the buildings that is part of the GWU Medical School. His name is Ernest, and he is something of a "mascot" to the people who pass his way, especially to the GWU students. Ernest is a Vietnam Vet, and the lines on his face and the weariness in his posture tell me me has had a very tough life. Far tougher than I can imagine. But Ernest is always smiling, always cheerful, calling out "Hello"s and "Good Morning"s and "God Bless You"s to all who pass by, whether they decide to drop a little change in his cup or not. Over time Ernest and I have gotten to know each other in a way, and when I have time I stop to chat for a moment with him before continuing on to whatever appointment I have to keep. I had a series of assignments over the summer that took me to other parts of the city, so I didn't see Ernest for awhile. When I started walking by his usual place again, a couple months ago, I was saddened that I didn't see him. I wondered what had happened to him, and I hoped that he was okay. And today, he was there. He was sitting off the sidewalk today, under the overhang of the building, out of the rain. "Well, Helloooo, Purple Lady!" he boomed out when he saw me. (He calls me that because I have a purple briefcase.) Though I was in a bit of a hurry, I gave him a big smile and asked where he had been for the past few months. Ernest had wonderful news. With the help of a couple GWU Law Students, he had been put on a list for a subsidized housing unit through a local charity, and he had been fortunate enough to receive a small apartment and other services to help him begin to climb out of the poverty and despair he had endured for so long. I was genuinely happy for him, and I told him so. But the thing that really made my jaw drop was what Ernest had cradled on his lap. It was a beat-up old acoustic guitar. I asked him about it, and received a gigantic grin. Turns out Ernest has played guitar since he was a boy, growing up in the South. After he started receiving services through the charity a volunteer found out he played and gave him the instrument. Now Ernest plays every day and is teaching some of his friends from the Shelter he used to frequent how to play too. Standing under the overhang of that building as the rain pelted down, looking at the smile on the face of a man who had little of nothing but the pure joy of music, I remembered just how blessed I am, to have a job and a family and a home and people who love me. Then something else happened -- and I'm convinced it was the Karma Goddess just tapping me on the shoulder, but nearly knocking me on my ass. "You look a little down today, Purple Lady," Ernest said, giving me another big smile. I nodded and made the excuse that I was tired, and that the rain always made me a little blue. "Well, then maybe you need a little somethin' to cheer you up." Ernest replied. Then he started to pick out a tune on his battered old guitar, and to sing in his warm, gravelly voice. Here comes the sun Here comes the sun, oh I say It's all right.... I damned near started crying right there. Seriously. I had tears in my eyes. I stood there listening and watching for another minute, until I had to go. I thanked Ernest and wished him the best, and stepped out into the rain again, continuing on to do my job. That was probably the best gift I could have gotten today. Not just because I needed it, but because I have a friend who is going through her own little rough patch right now. And I happen to know that she loves that song, too, especially as performed by a certain Jersey-Boy guitarist. She was on my mind as I trudged through the rain and encountered Ernest and his song. I'm convinced that song was as much for her as it was for me. Everybody rides on the Karma train. And sometimes it's a good ride...


  1. Dammit, Cate! I got teary reading this.
    Great story....and yes, great song for our girl.

  2. Aw Catte that was moving. I'm with Tara *sniff*

  3. Okay i too have tears in my eyes. I love that song. I pass this guy all the time and when i can I drop a few dollars in his hand. When we had an actual hot bar I usually added a little extra in his box when he came in.

  4. Thanks, Catte. This is one of my faves :) Makes me smile just to hear it.

    Hugs, Hath


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