Cathedral Spires -I Wish I Read His Cardboard Sign

I would see him again.

“It was as though there was an unspoken agreement that nothing would pierce the bubble that had been carefully placed around us” – unknown

But something, no someone pierced my bubble. 

My wife and i were celebrating our twenty ninth anniversary this weekend. She is still in my bubble and i am thankful for this. 

In Charlottetown, we stayed in the lovely Prime Ministers suite at the Great George Hotel. A suite we would never book except that it was booked at a tremendous employee discount by our Brother-in-Law, and it is still pricy at that. We found out during check-out that our SIL & BIL paid for the whole evening too. How over the top generous and kind is that? Two floors of decadence, about 10  rooms. 

Come to find out, as i shared with my friends….

“I’ve slept in the same bed as Reba McIntyre, I was informed…. Lynn Rayner did not mind because she did too… it was king size after all.

Update: Jean Chritien, Paul Martin. Kelly Ripa and Steven harpers wife… Lauren… as well…

As silly as it might seem to many, our get away day began with a seven km wilderness hike on the Breadalbane Trail. Some Chinese food at a restaurant  where the only language spoken by every quest, and server, was Chinese…. except when she took our order.

As I ate my Pad Thai, I said to my wife, 

“I swear, if you were to take me to Asia, i doubt you’d ever get me home again “

That is how much i enjoy authentic Asian food of any kind. East coasties are affraid of spices….

We checked into our 10 room suite (no joking ) with two fire places, enjoying the huge hot tub after our hike.  Later that evening we wandered the down town streets. The streets my girlie and I courted on in our college & university days.  It is good to take time to remember what, and who this beautiful human being in front of me is about. Why are we still a “WE” after all these years? 

“Mack has been married to Nan for just more than thirty-three mostly happy years. He says she saved his life and paid a high price to do it.” (William P. Young. The Shack

A wedding couple was actually having wedding photos taken in front of our quaint old style suite. I saw them below our third story  window. As we walked later on, the girl in her white  wedding dress was running  all over the place with her man, and photographer, getting pictures everywhere. So excited, and so full of vibrant life on this day.  It was sweet to see. They were just beginning, we are holding hands and twenty nine years in, excited, but walking much more slowly than them. 

As I looked at the Basilica across the street through our third story window, where saturday evening mass was just finishing, i also saw something else.

There he was, holding a cardboard sign that said who knows what. Certainly, on that ccardboard is written some sad story that many people would probably quickly question the validity of. 

In front of him he has a turned upside down plastic milk crate with a shiny tin can in the center, shiny because the label is pealed off. He simply turned different directions so people could read his sign as they exited the Cathedral. Some gave alms, most did not. He had his back turned to my window most of the time. I remember straining my eyes very hard to try and read his sign from across the street, and three stories up. But my old eyes are telling their age already. I could not read it. But I so wanted to read his story. 

I’m  beginning to realize most people have stories that need to be told, and need to be heard. The common good luck and bad luck stories (some have horror stories) of which all of life consists. We need to hear them, just as much as they need to tell them. We are both  better off in the telling, and the hearing.

“You can’t move in too close to poverty, get too involved in it, without becoming dangerously wounded yourself.”(Moritz Thomsen Living Poor)

Hard luck street signs are usually deeper stories than mere poverty. But the Poverty alone is enough. 

When the Basilica was emptied of people he packed up and left. But he did not leave my mind. 

Truth is, i used to be a “clergyman” a “minister”, a “theologian” of sorts, of the usual kind. My faith is intact, but the expressions of it have changed. I am no longer a clergyman… truth is i never was one, even when I was one.  In many ways i am more comfortable hanging out with the milk crate young man on the street than sitting in religious services, of which i in no way intend to criticize, or question the power or need for. But i don’t attend those kinds of church events much anymore. I live out faith differently now.

I’ve found that i can serve better on the margins, not from the center or top. I’m miserable at the top and up front. I find i can see God’s fingerprints more quickly serving in other ways.

But the truth is, i am just akward everywhere.

It was not the beauty of the Cathedral spires that aroused the seeking and questioning of God, though that was the orginal intent of those icons, symbols, steeples and architecture. 


Rather it was the young man and his tin can spire on top of a milk crate that drove my mind to God, and my neighbour, most quickly. 

It seems ironic to me now.

It was over. He left,  i would never know his cardboard story. 

I was busy rediscovering our marriage story. “C’est la vie!” Or is it?

Sunday morning we were driving across town and happened to be passing First Baptist Church. Must have been near service starting time, because people were flooding in off the streets. That church building has its spires too, of the more demure evangelical kind.

But i saw cardboard sign man again, there on the sidewalk facing the church doors. I quickly asked my wife to pull over. I didn’t see anyone droping coins as my wife drove past the young man to  a safe stopping spot. I grabbed $20 out of my wallet and hurried across the street. I saw a few people drop coins as i came toward the human with a cardboard story. But i was not really seeing any of the dozens and dozens of church people moving up the sidewalk, in both directions, converging on the church door. I was totally set on getting to the young man and his tin can spire. We have history you see, because we connected through a third story window the day before, though he knew it not.

I arrived… i dropped my twenty in the can and we barely made eye contact. He was looking straight ahead, i was looking down. All i could do was place a quick hand on his shoulder and a….

  “Best of Luck Buddy”,  as the only words I could muster.

Dear God, you’d think as a humanitarian that i would be at ease in such situations.

I turned quickly and was now rapidly walking head into opposing pedestrian church traffic on the sidewalk, so i cut diagonally across the street to get out of the crowd.

I hopped in the car and we drove off… But as i slammed my seatbelt buckle into its locking mechanism i may have said something like…

“I’d rather support people, than steeples and spires.”

But you would need to confirm what was actually said with my wife. With all the rapidfire thoughts I was thinking, i am not certain which ones actually leaked out and got spoken. 

The darned thing is that i never read his sign… not a word of it. I realized this fact only later as i thought about it slumped in the passengers seat. I haven’t a clue what his hard luck story was. I really wish I’d read that cardboard story he took time to make, as vague, true, distorted, or incomplete as it certainly would have been.

I don’t doubt, question, or dismiss such people’s stories much anymore. If my generosity is used for “SIN” (drugs or booze) I’ll never know. Why do i think i get to control a gift once given away?  Maybe his sign is a lie…. people live lies all the time. We all get duped by them at times…… living other peoples falsehoods, views, and opinions. 

But still so worthy of love, and life. 

Why this on my anniversary getaway you ask? I don’t know! It’s my convoluted mind  spinning in circles as i prepare  to return to Africa in a few weeks.

I might need to write a cardboard love sign for my wife… 

Best of luck buddy! 

Shesh, is that really the best i can come up with? These days, yes it is. Saying nothing seems to be the best thing to me lately. 
If my story could be reduced  to one cardboard  panel of fifteen words… what would i write? What would you write?

Do me a favour. When i die, find where they buried me, but don’t you dare leave me flowers. Instead, write your story on a cardboard and prop it againt my tomb stone for me. I’ll ask God to please please put his fingerprints on your story in a way you can see it. 

Best of luck Basilica!

Best of luck First Baptist!

Best of luck Invisible Humanitarian as you mark your future path. 

I love you Lynn.. 

(The spires in this photo were of the Basilica across the street. Taken from our suite’s deck, over the roof  top.)

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