This week, Kayla and I traveled to Savannah, GA in search of some salt air and sunshine. What we found turned out to be worth so much more.
We spent our days wandering the cobblestoned city, my nose in a historical guide, stopping every few feet to point out a different monument or an infamous building. We cruised around corners aboard a trolley, laughing at the dad jokes that our driver kept trying out on his passengers, breathing in the possibilities of somewhere new.
Surprises seemed to wait for us around each bend in the road. An inconspicuous Greek restaurant appeared and we ate vegetarian gyros at a cafe table in the moonlight, while ships sailed by on the river and waiters shouted orders into the kitchen. Dog bakeries and sprawling farmer’s markets, cold brew coffee bottled to perfection and pushed into our hands to sample, strangers offering to take our photo, totally unsolicited. Even the traffic patterns of Savannah were unusual to us — pedestrians really do have the right of way, all the time, no matter what. Vehicles patiently waited until we reached the opposite sidewalk before entering the intersection. If they missed the light and had to wait for it to cycle back around to green, then so be it. It’s a province that very much embodies the phrase “Que sera, sera.” Why should you hurry when you can take your time?
On Saturday afternoon, I turned to Kayla and said, “I don’t know where we are. Let’s go this way.” Planning has never been our strongest suit.
We wound our way towards some unknown destination, ending up in one of a dozen stunning city squares. Across the street was a gelato shop, which I interpreted as a sign from the universe that we were exactly where we needed to be. Ten minutes later, we emerged back into the sunlight, each with a mountainous waffle cone of sugar. We sat on a brick retaining wall, quietly savoring the moment.
“Excuse me,” a voice said. I looked up and there, standing beside me, was a middle-aged man. In his hands, he held palm leaves.
“May I sit down?” he asked.
“Of course,” Kayla and I replied in unison.
For a minute, the three of us sat together, each inside our own thoughts.
Shifting his body, the man told us, “I wanted to sit with you so that I could tell you about myself.”
“Okay,” I said, nodding in what I hoped was an encouraging way. The man seemed heavy and tired, giving off the impression that he was just as worn out as his clothes.
“My friends call me Shaky,” he began. “I live under a bridge with my girlfriend. She’s a Cherokee Indian, did you know that? We had a daughter.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Shaky,” Kayla said.
Shaky continued. “I don’t want to lie anymore. I do a lot of things I shouldn’t, but I don’t want to lie.”
We looked at each other. After a moment, he elaborated.
“I drink. I smoke. I use crack. I’ve been to prison. I’m drunk right now.” Shaky fidgeted and I looked at his hands. They shook, suggesting where his name came from. They were also busy, bending the palm leaves he had brought with him, curving them into the shape of a flower, then a heart, almost like he was constructing a balloon animal.
“I don’t want anything. A lot of people around here are people like me. They want things and they lie to you about who they are. But I don’t want to lie. I am who I am. I could be better, I hope I will be. But I can’t lie.”
Still, Shaky moved his hands while he talked, creating his sculpture.
“I just wanted to come over here and tell you that. I want somebody to know my truth. It ain’t pretty, but it’s true.”
“Thank you, Shaky. We appreciate that.” I sincerely meant it and I hope he felt that from me, but I can’t say for sure.
He handed me the palm leaf, which was now the size and shape of a real rose. I took it and he said, “We are all children of a Creator and we should all speak our truth. Take this. It’s my way of saying ‘I love you.’ Thanks for listening to an old man.”
Thank you, Shaky. For surprising our souls with your soul. For allowing us to practice listening, rather than just hearing. For choosing to express love, the bravest of all emotions. For the reminder that honesty is not only powerful, but beautiful, and worthy. It ain’t always pretty, but it is always true.
WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise