I’m not going to lie – sometimes living in Romania gets me stressed out and occasionally depressed. Definitely. And sometimes when I’m dealing with the thousandth instance of idiocy after a long week, it makes me wonder why I live here.
Today however I met with someone special. And we spent an hour sitting under the shade of a tree in a church cemetery here near my house, talking idly mostly about nothing. And it’s sometimes times like these that makes me remember what it’s all about.
What’s special about this young man is that he is homeless and that I have known him for years. How I exactly met him and got to know him is a story for another time. Suffice it to say is that he’s not a gypsy but just a very poor Romanian who had a less than stellar home life. Quite filthy and depending on tricks, charity and luck to survive, he has no formal education to rely on and only a loose patchwork of friends to stay with occasionally to get out of the wind and the rain.
Some people reading this are going to want me to say that I’m helping this man go to school or learn a skilled trade or otherwise rise above his poverty and lack of education and get off the streets. Alas, that would be a story because the truth is that it’s not going to happen. Without slighting his hardiness and adeptness at survival, he is so far behind in basic advanced skills of civilization such as reading and writing that the chances of that happening are minimal.
Quite frankly he doesn’t even have a mobile phone and when I was asking him about it today it seems it’s more of a case that others would steal it from him than purely his lack of opportunity to somehow acquire one. He certainly doesn’t use the internet and has only the vaguest idea of what it is. All of his knowledge about the wider world comes from movies on television. Today he was telling me a story about Jamaica which involved Steven Seagall. He knew that marijuana was commonly smoked there but had no idea that the people there speak English.
But I don’t pity him. To begin with, he has a tremendously good heart. That’s often sneered at or given short shrift but quite frankly I find a good heart to be more valuable than gold. I know more than a few people with fancy clothes and shiny cars who don’t truly give a shit about anyone and yet this kid would give you the shirt off his back without hesitating. He’s certainly been extremely generous to me over the years with no relation to the obvious fact that I don’t lack for much.
Yet all the things we can buy and the computers we stare at and the drinks we hoist at the table and the food we eat is missing its salt, its flavor without the warmth of human relations. And this is exactly where this kid’s generosity shines. No matter that he is at a disadvantage when accessing the knowledge and news of the wider world, he always has a kind word, a warm generous gesture or an honest, unadulterated curiosity. And I simply cannot fail to mention his innate optimism, he, a homeless Romanian kid who has never known a stable home or stability, he is the optimistic one between the two of us.
Today I saw him standing on the corner, eating something with his black, grimy hands. After talking to him a minute there, he asked me to walk around the corner up to a nearby cemetery and sit down and talk with him a while. And so we did. And in the long silences between his questions and my answers, or describing to me how it is that Jamaicans live, I had a chance to really reflect and realize how good life here can be.
What price is a quiet summer afternoon in the shade, listening to the wind rustle in the trees, watching a little bird hop across the grass in search of a snack, all in the companionship of an old friend?