I was on a sidewalk in Asheville, NC when the man with the bike approached me. It had already been an interesting and exciting day. It was my first visit to Asheville and I felt the energy that always accompanies exploring a new place. I was with a handful of new friends and was getting to know them. Asheville by day was exotic, invigorating, and new. The fresh wind blew through the streets. The afternoon sky lit up the clouds. Glimpses of mountains loomed between buildings. There was music and chatter everywhere. Night was different. It was still beautiful in its own way. The street lamps lit up and music drifted out of clubs. But there was an edge to this beauty. There were shadows on the edge of those street lamps. There were people I didn’t notice before sitting on sidewalks or benches, obvious that they had nowhere to go. They worried me extremely. We got to the bus stop earlier than planned, so we waited in a small park on the other side of the street. My friends were all smoking their new e-cigarettes and you could see how happy it made them to look so very hip and dangerous (though there wasn’t even nicotine in them). I enjoyed watching them try to blow out more smoke than each other, each pretending they knew everything about e-cigs. Some people stopped by and chatted with us. They had backpacks and worn out clothes. It was obvious that they had been traveling a long time. Of course I have heard all the warnings about talking to strangers, but I felt no fear and only a longing to learn more about there life or even to drop everything and go with them. They were exciting, tranquil, loving people and hugged us goodbye very sweetly. We crossed the street to wait for the bus. As we waited an old black man (aged more with hardships than years) walked up to us guiding a bike. He asked is we had 35 cents. I gave him $3. The humility with which he asked and with which he took the money rocked me to the very core. By his consternation over the $3 you would’ve thought I had given him $300. He almost cried and that made me cry. I turned away and my friends gave him money and talked to him. His name was Ervin and he had a job were he made $60 a day but he gave it away to, well, anyone. He slept in the woods and went without meals so that he could care for anyone he could. He so obviously loved the human race, saying that he loved everyone like his own children. He talked of how Jesus had taught to feed the hungry and to love. Throughout this he was very emotional; trembling, his quiet voice occasionally breaking with desperate sincerity. He was in no way eloquent, but he was passionate. He begged us to take the bike; that he was “tired of it” and wanted someone else to have it. Two of my friends took it to my surprise, but later I learned that they planned to fix it up and try to find him again, or failing that, give it away as instructed. The bus came and before we left, each of us hugged him. Then we climbed on the bus and he was gone from our lives. The moment I sat down I began to sob. My friends comforted me the best they could, supported me through an experience that was so thoroughly mine. One of them, a beautiful and good person, amazingly kind and a deep thinker, handed me a rose she had picked in the park. She told me to keep it, dry it, and hold onto it forever to remember this moment. I remember another friend wrapping his arm around me as I cried and when I sobbed “I don’t know why I’m crying,” he replied “You’re crying because it’s important.”
But why was I crying? It was just how beautiful and how awful this man’s life is. It was his own beauty; his desperation and despair and hope and love, his humility and his pride in what he did. He is the one true Christian. The basic teachings of the Christian bible are about giving everything you have away and about loving everyone. It sets an impossible standard. Human’s simply can’t live like that and never will. But there will always be that one man, with or without his bike, who is sure of getting to heaven.
I stood on the fire escape of my dorm room. The breeze was still kissing my face. I could see a patch of night sky through the trees. I could hear people moving in the dorms. I stood there and I thought.
The title of this piece says “Epiphany” so you probably expect me to end with a life lesson. Here I must disappoint. Though I am sure I had an epiphany that night, it may take me days or years to figure out exactly what it means. Once I figure it out, you’ll be the first to know.
Be patient. It must be important if I was crying.