By Adam Crosthwaite
Christmas Eve 1997 was the most beautiful night I can recall from my life in Denver Colorado. It was a Christmas Eve without all the fancy fringe luxuries of an upscale holiday party. I had just turned eighteen at the time and I could venture out past curfew without fear of authority, so I hopped on a bus and went downtown for an evening. It was my first night out in the city alone. As I stepped off the bus in front of the court house I looked up and saw an electric castle. It sat there proud and glorious, an island of lights in a dreary sea of darkness. I shook my head as I thought about all the families with small children who had to forego a Christmas tree and lights so they could afford to heat their homes that winter. I was already in pretty negative mood that night. It was two weeks after I was thrown out of my parent’s house and I was living with my sister. The next day we were going to my mom’s for Christmas, I was not looking forward to the event. But I knew they all loved me regardless of my reckless attitude at the time. Silently I slipped down a side street and headed for the popular hangouts where I used to meet with friends. I don’t recall the time, however the streets were empty. What a feeling, not a person in sight. There was the contrast of emptiness in the streets that I remember as crowded with all sorts of people.
The only people out that night, other than the occasional police patrol which was about three hours overdue, were the homeless. They were huddled in the usual spot behind the court house on the southwest corner of the block. As I turned the corner I was greeted by the soft hum of a gentlemanly conversation. I came upon a small group of men standing watch over the rest of the people as they lay sleeping across the exhaust vents behind the court house boiler room. They were a rough looking trio with the rasp of street life in their tone, yet they spoke with such sincere respect for one another you would never know they were living on the streets by the tone of conversation. As I approached the vents on the corner I was invited into the group; me, the passing stranger from a seemingly far away land, was included in this fellowship of strangers. No one asked me my name or even how I found them, I was merely welcome and from that point on I was feeling better. It is almost as if they could sense I needed something, something I was not going to find on my own. There in the darkness I found a place I never knew could exist in this world.
We sat for hours watching over rows of sleeping men and women huddled close in perfect alignment across the ventilation shafts blowing warmth from the courthouse basement. Young and old lay side by side peaceful and safe as the trio stood with their new companion gently conversing by moon light. I could not begin to describe the feelings that flooded my young mind at that moment. We watched the moon play hide and seek with the clouds between skyscrapers as we waited for nothing special. There was much conversation although I fail to recall anything said that night. For the first time my young mind was allowing a moment to unfold without intrusion. I can not recall any words that were spoken. All I remember is the genuine and sincere people I was honored by with this simple gesture. These people were not judgmental, nor demanding of one another. They simply meant what they said and enjoyed the company they were in. I was aware that this was a rare moment to be a part of and I longed for the night to last just a few hours more. Few moments in my life, with the exception of my experiences in Qabalistic Ministry, have been as genuine as the night I was a stranger in this exotic underworld.
As I reflect back at this moment, especially around this time of the year, I wonder why people don’t see life the same way as my companions did. Reverend Strickler discussed the difference between value and regard during a Tuesday night gathering for meditation. He handed me a dictionary, you know the kind you would use to kill a New York cockroach with, and had me look up both words. The first one I read out loud was value.
As I read, I noticed that there was no reference to regard. Value is nothing more than a term used for measurement of inanimate objects or services. After a further research, conducted via internet, I learned that the term value was quote “supposedly borrowed from the language of painting” as a meaning of social principle around the year 1918. Personally I see a red flag here and I assure you I will be looking further into this overuse of poetic license which confused society. Value has nothing to do with measuring the worth of a person. That is unless you are a member of the big business regime and people are a commodity.
The next word was regard. I couldn’t help but notice how value was not mentioned. Regard referenced to holding something in esteem, respect not value. So why is it that an important word as regard is being replaced by a consumerist term such as value?
Ironic isn’t it, how those who hold no value in the eyes of society hold life in such high regard? These were people without the luxury of a bed, let alone a roof over their head and still saw more in life than a mere pay off or opportunity for personal gain. They didn’t measure life by values or any other known form you may learn about in any school or business. They had no use for measurements utilized by the everyday businessman or woman. When they looked at life they saw no measurable value. They saw life and they regarded life as precious. It was the moment that mattered because that was all they had. It is also the very thing that separated them from the rest of the world. I never heard a homeless man or woman use the word regard in a sentence. But I watched them express its meaning in their world as they interacted with one another.
Like a true artist, Reverend Strickler had shown me a new perspective and a clearer perception to adjust to after learning about the misuse of the term value. To me value is a term, regard is a word. I still value things, many things. I have to use measurements every day. But I hold in regard the use of words and the power that is held in the proper use as well as the misuse of words.
For a group of people who had little material possessions, these men sure did know what they were doing. I would later learn that many of them chose to live on the streets and lived quite well considering they had no house to live in. They would work just enough to eat and to maintain themselves for a while. They never regarded work as a way of life. These people seemed more real to me than the corporate executives I would meet at my parent’s work places.
As I reflect now back to that moment I see more than just a trio of carefree men enjoying a winter night. I see a world where someone in this life has the courage to live the meaning of regard. This season we are facing a new form of homelessness. There are people out there in the cold with children who lost their homes in one natural disaster or another. As these people are seen to, remember those who share their blankets with them, the ones who keep watch through the night so they may sleep safely. Although you may not feel comfortable doing so, stop and say hello to one or two of them. They won’t value anything you give them. They will hold you and your actions in regard. Besides, you never know it but someday you may see them watching your back making sure you are okay.
I carry with me a gift in my mind from that night, a gift I now refer to as my own personal hidden treasure. Sometimes when I feel like there is no where to find peace to temporarily calm the raging ocean in my mind I remember that sight and for a moment I find my mind slows down and allows the moment to unfold as it should. To this day I have the images in my mind of that night; someday I may have to draw these moments. Perhaps the picture that engaged an unused portion of my mind or rather heart could do some good for others as well.
I have one wish to share this Christmas. I wish we could all regard each other, even if only long enough to make that magickal connection by stopping to say, “Hello, Merry Christmas”.