He was set up on the corner of Adams and College, not the place I would have expected. If you had asked me to go find Nature, I probably would have started looking near The Shelter on Tennessee Street. But here he was in the middle of the rush and buzz of the Tallahassee lobbying season, sitting comfortably on the sidewalk, while people absorbed in legislative dealings walked by him as if he was invisible.
Since the early 1980’s, Wednesday nights have always been special. A small group of friends have gathered somewhere around 6:00 p.m., to run 4-5 miles. The run is followed by a chance to share a couple of drinks and eat dinner. It is a running ritual that began in front of Jack Herzog’s home more than 30 years ago. The group has shrunk over the years and we have moved around to different places, but for the last 10 years or so we have settled on a course that runs from the Challenger Learning Center, down College Avenue and through the FSU campus and back to the Center. To survive that long has required perseverance through broken ankles, fractured shins, heart issues, cancer, badly damaged Achilles, knees and hamstring surgery. It is every bit as much about friendships as it is about running. It is a story repeated all over Tallahassee, friend enduring together.
I met Nature after our run, leaving dinner this past Wednesday. I am pretty sure he doesn’t have a home and he probably doesn’t run. I was immediately reminded of one of our favorite (and longest lasting) Turkey Trot beneficiaries, The Shelter. Yes, I know there have been some problems there this year, but I have no doubt that Mel and company have done a lot more good for so many people than any harm alleged by questionable accusers, even if their accusations could be proven.
Nature had his own little set up on this busy corner with sheets of paper neatly secured in plastic binders. His demeanor was calm, content as he dug a plastic spoon into his dinner which rested in a styrofoam container. It seemed the neighborly thing to do to say hello. He seemed surprised at first, but then he quickly launched into a conversation. I got lost just as quickly, as he described the carefully organized treasure of writing materials surrounding him. One paper, he said, explained how to regenerate fingers and limbs; I assumed like the ones he was missing. “It cost ten cents to copy these,” he said. “Take any one you want for ten cents and anything more you might give will help me out.” It was matter of fact – no begging.
I cursed under my breath. I knew I did not have a penny on me. I thanked him for his time and told him I did some writing too and I was interested in his offering. I reached out my hand to shake his. He started to extend his hand and then, seemingly embarrassed about the missing fingers quickly withdrew it. He thanked me as I walked away without any effort to make me feel guilty.
Afterwards, in my office, I searched for something – a misplaced dollar, some lose change, a sticky dime. Nothing. I promised myself, I would go to the bank the next day. As I pulled on to College Avenue, though, I couldn’t let go. I parked my car on Monroe Street near an ATM and next thing I knew, I was jogging back to Adams Street. Nature still occupied the corner in the world that seemed oblivious to him.
I pointed to a sheet of paper filled with intricate drawings. He pulled a copy out of its plastic folder. I wondered if this was the one that told the story of regenerating limbs. All I had were $20 bills. I handed Nature one and took the article. It took just a minute for him to recognize what I had given him, but as he did I saw something in his face that was way more than thanks. He immediately began pulling out additional papers and articles and giving them to me wanting to be sure the exchange was fair. The thank you came from a man with dignity, if not a home, making his way through the world the best way he could. When I got home I discovered one of his treasures was titled: “Understanding of why the Earth was turning on the Dinosaurs.”
I know somehow this all relates to the tragedy in Boston. Two bombers, one dead and one in jail; thank goodness neither made it to Times Square, their next intended stop. Friendships make us all stronger; the thoughts of a man struggling to find his place in the world also have to teach us something. For Nature it was simple: “The Planet is turning on us because we are not working with the living force of it.” Can’t say I fully understand what he meant.
I guess for now, I will just keep looking for chances to learn while I keep on running.