He shuffled up to our table, coffee in one hand, umbrella and newspaper in the other. I noticed his hands were trembling as he placed first the coffee, then the paper and umbrella down on the table. He slowly removed his backpack and put it on the ground. He sat down on the bench seat opposite us, bent over and pulled an aluminium ashtray from his backpack, then carefully positioned it on the table next to his coffee. Next, he reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a cigarette – the kind you roll yourself – and lit it up.
I watched him hoping to make eye contact so I could say hello, but he kept his head down as if he was unaware we were there, or he just didn’t care. He wore one of those caps that English gentlemen wear pulled down over his long unkempt hair, making it difficult to see his face.
It was Friday morning and Ross and I had headed down to McDonalds for a late breakfast. We were staying in the city for a couple of days and planned to visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship down by Darling Harbour this morning. We proceeded to unwrap our breakfast meal while our mystery table guest unwrapped his newspaper and began reading.
I watched as he puffed away on his cigarette and turned the pages of the paper. His hands were very dirty, his nails long. He wore a gold ring on his third finger.
“Hello,” I said, but there was no response. Maybe he didn’t hear me.
I tried again, louder. “Good morning..”
He lifted his head, slowly turned and caught my eye, nodded, and then went back to scanning his newspaper.
The umbrella. I persisted.
“Do you think it will rain today?”
He looked back at me with bleary grey eyes and said something which I couldn’t quite make out. He had a long beard with overgrown moustache which muffled his words. He turned the pages of his paper and pointed to the weather report. Rain was forecast, he said.
And so a conversation of sorts began. We introduced ourselves, and he told us his name was Ron. He lived around the area, was born here in Sydney, at McMahon’s Point.
“You know where that is?” Ron asked. No, sorry we didn’t.
We respectfully asked if he would like to share our breakfast. He respectfully declined. At first.
I felt incredibly sad for Ron. He looked as though he was probably our age, and I wondered what desperate circumstances had led to his living on the streets, of becoming another “homeless statistic”. Had he lost a wife? Children? He had certainly lost direction, hope, and any sense of self-worth.
Finally it was time for us to leave, time for us to visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship. We said goodbye to Ron and walked away from one place of friendship to find another down by the harbour. We spent a long time wandering through the stunning gardens which had been established many years ago as a gesture of friendship between two cultures. The freshness, the beauty, and the peace of this incredibly beautiful place stood in stark contrast to the life of the man with whom we had recently shared a meal.
And all the while, I found myself mulling over a statement I had heard someone make just the week before, a statement I had been pondering over ever since:
“We all have two lives – the one we are living now,
and the unlived life within us.”
It’s a statement about life purpose, about potential.
Over the past week I had been wondering how close the gap between my two lives was.
It’s actually something I’ve wondered about many times throughout the years, always striving for greater clarity of my purpose, always challenged to close the gap between what is, and what can be.
And now I was wondering how wide that gap was for Ron. It seems to me that gap has become a chasm so deep he probably does not think much beyond surviving today. I prayed that he would begin to search for his purpose in life, and for the One who gave him life. I prayed that he would find the way back to believing in himself. I prayed that he would have the courage to step out into his unlived life.
I know it’s not too late for Ron.
I know it’s never too late – for any of us.
Thinking of you today,