THE OLD MAN AND THE TREE
An early walk through the park brought me to the tree where, months ago, I saw a homeless man sheltering from a May shower (Blog: 5/9/2011). At the time, all his possessions were gathered in a plastic bag, which he carried in a shopping cart. Today, he was keeping cool beneath that same tree but the shopping cart was gone. In its place was a bicycle with a large pair of saddlebags slung from either side. In the world of bottle and aluminum collectors, he seemed to have gone up in the world.
He didn’t see my approach. When I said, “good morning,” he didn’t seem to hear me, either. He was reading one of the free, community newspapers avidly, as if he were a stockbroker studying a report on a faltering economy. For all I knew, he did own stocks. One hears of the occasional recluse who dies and leaves a million dollars to a university. But I doubted this was the case. Of course, he could be a well-educated man down on his luck. In my novel, “Heart Land,” there is a hobo, one taken from life, who, with his degree in physics, opens new worlds to the eyes of a young boy.
As I walked on, I continued to think about this man, sitting alone under a tree, engrossed in his newspaper. Absurd as it may seem and despite the state of our schools, I felt proud of my country. A free education is a right granted to every individual who resides here, regardless of economic station. That is a wonderful gift the nation gives to itself.
I hope after the guns and the armored tanks and helicopters are brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ll remember that democracy thrives best when literacy also thrives. I hope we’ll choose books and not bullets as we consider how to invest in our country’s future.