Chapter 25 — Linking the Mysteries
Excerpt from The Inspired Heart:
An Artist's Journey of Transformation
By Jerry Wennstrom
© 2007 Inferential Focus and reprinted with permission
[Image: "Old Man" © Steven Bingham, used by permission.]
A friend needed a ride to the airport. She asked if I could bring her to JFK and pick her up on her return flight the following week. She offered to pay me the thirty-five dollars she would have paid the airport limo. I drove her to the airport but refused payment. However, she insisted on paying me and slipped the money into the ashtray of the car.
Her week away passed, and the day arrived for me to return to the airport to pick her up. I left early that chilly and rainy morning, giving myself plenty of time to arrive on schedule. As I turned onto the highway leading out of town, I saw a rather bedraggled, middle-aged man standing on the side of the road hitchhiking. I stopped and opened the door. He got into the car and thanked me for stopping, then sat sullen, soggy, and smelling of alcohol until we neared his destination. As we approached the place where he wanted to be let out, I reached into the ashtray and handed him the thirty-five dollars my friend had left the week before. The man looked at me astonished, then to my surprise, turned his face away and began to cry. He turned to me and said, "Did God tell you to give me this money? Will he help me? My family has no food. I drink."
When I looked at him and saw the slight glimmer of a small hope in his eyes, I answered, "Yes." At that moment, he needed a "yes," so knowing or unknowing, I gave it to him.
When I pulled the car over to let him out, he continued talking. I sat and listened as he told me his sad story — out of work, no money, hungry children. At that desperate moment in his life, he seemed genuinely repentant about his drunkenness. Finally, when he finished talking, he gathered himself up, wiped his tears, said "May God bless you," and got out of the car. I felt like I had just impersonated a saint by letting him think that God had told me to give him the money and had assured me that the man would be okay! How would I know? I hoped he would be all right, but I had no idea what would become of him and his family. He seemed uneducated, he looked and smelled terrible, and his front teeth were missing. It did not appear to me that he would survive the scrutiny of the workplace long enough to even be considered for a job. I didn't know what would become of him, so I simply held the vision of him and his family's innocence in my heart like a prayer. I thought of him often over the next month or so. His tears and his trust in the fact that I might actually be on speaking terms with his God had moved me.
Can we serve as intermediaries between individual human suffering and God when those around us get lost in life? I did not know the answer to this. I did, however, feel a strange sense of responsibility and commitment to that possibility. The attention I gave this person in my thought process was due to my doubts. When events unfolded in the car that day, I responded with a clear and perhaps overconfident "yes." My answer came from the heart. My "yes" was a small lifeline thrown out from one human being to another at a moment when all seemed lost.
Robert Johnson tells a wonderful story in his book, Balancing Heaven and Earth. The story is about a traditional, unwritten law in India, which people just accept as commonplace in that deeply spiritual society. In India, one can approach another, at any moment one chooses, and ask the other to act as an intermediary between oneself and God. If you happen to be approached in this capacity, you must immediately accept responsibility and give yourself fully to that role, no matter what else may be going on at the moment.
Several months had passed since I had the encounter with the hitchhiker. It was now summertime as I sat looking out from my window one bright afternoon. Hundreds of people milled about on the streets and sidewalks below. The annual Nyack Street Fair was in progress. This was generally a joyful day for those who attended. Everyone came out onto the streets to see and be seen in the lightness of a festival atmosphere. Watching all the people, my thoughts went to the sad hitchhiker.
As I absentmindedly stared into the crowd, a conspicuous group of people stepped into view. What caught my attention about this particular formation of two adults and four children was that they were wearing rather fancy white cowboy hats. They appeared to be a family. All members but the mother had the same dark skin and they all looked alike. The man in the lead was shorter than the woman. Except for that one step up in the row, the four remaining cowboy hats took one step down with each progressively smaller cowperson. From my vantage point, they looked like a family of ducks with their white heads bobbing along. The smallest duck kept losing his head, which would be retrieved, brushed off, and replaced by the next larger duck in the row.
As I looked closer at the person in the lead, I saw with astonishment that it was the man I had given a ride to on that cold and rainy morning several months back. The gloriously adorned lineup following him would have to be his family! Clearly, he was proud and in control of this joyful procession with their matching white cowboy hats. The sight of this funny little family out there on Broadway, defining themselves as a unit with their bold and unique fashion statement, lifted my spirits. This unusual man had twice blessed my life simply by showing up perfectly.
Against the velum of night
the wind beat its wings
arousing the moist air
scattering shadows like flies
— Mud *
To order Mud's (Steven Weitzman) book of poetry, Landscape of the Misty Eye
or email- EvaandSteven@cs.com
©2007 Pomegranate Seed Productions, used by permission.
At the age of 29, artist Jerry Wennstrom destroyed all of his work, gave away all of his possessions, and set about living a deliberately simple and profoundly spiritual life. He practiced celibacy for 15 years until choosing to marry his life partner, singer Marilyn Strong. He is the author of The Inspired Heart: An Artist's Journey of Transformation. He has published over 50 essays and interviews, and his life's work has been the subject of Holy Personal by Laura Chester. In 2001, Parabola produced a documentary film called In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom. Sentient Publications is distributing a new 3-feature DVD, which includes In the Hands of Alchemy, the new film Studio Dialogue, and The Life and Works of Jerry Wennstrom (1979).
Jerry Wennstrom is a regular contributor to Mythic Passages.
Read more of his articles published in this series.
To read more of Jerry Wennstrom
and view his paintings and sculpture please visit his website
Watch an exerpt of the video, Hands of Alchemy on YouTube
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