Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

August 04, 2004


I met a guy named Vin. Short for Kevin. He's homeless just now. A sturdy-looking fellow, maybe thirty, thirty-five. He'd drifted here from another state. Was staying at the Preble Street Shelter. An old man who lived at the shelter once told me that he tries to stay out on the streets as much as possible, because "the devil is in the shelter."

But getting back to Vin. His clothes were dirty from sleeping on the ground, and yet he struck me as a competent person. Probably somebody's husband, somebody's dad. It was easy to picture him romping with his children in a suburban back yard. An SUV and a fancy new pick-up in the garage. He talked about finishing his degree. About getting into an architecture program somewhere. I would've pegged him for a builder, a carpenter.

He'd come into the library where I work, probably just to get in out of the heat. He asked for the university's course catalog, but he hardly looked into it. I explained to him who to talk to about admissions, about financial aid, but he thought if he could just write a letter to the dean of the engineering school, they'd surely let him in and pay for his education perhaps. You see he had a potentially revolutionary idea about heating buildings with "heavy water." In the course of explaining this idea to me he often digressed. He talked of building codes, geometry, zoning ordinances, rocketry, horticulture. In all these matters he showed a wealth of knowledge, as if his mind were a storehouse of millions of facts . . . and yet there was no cohesion. His conversation wandered off-topic very quickly, and he sometimes had to struggle to refocus. He'd ask a question, but lose interest in the answer before you were even finished. Then he'd be off on a tangent again, explaining to me the difference between flora and fauna, or going on about the turning-radius of large jets.

It was really impressive, the knowledge he showed. I'd be willing to bet that everything he told me was absolutely correct. And yet something was missing, something was out of joint. He began to repeat himself about the letter to the dean. He really pinned his hopes on that. I kept redirecting the conversation to the more mundane matter of filling out applications, etc. But all that talk seemed only to sadden him. As if he knew there was really no use.

All along I felt I knew this man, or at least I knew men very much like him. He was almost the model of competence and understanding. Almost. But somewhere, somehow, he'd lost his grip. And the thing is, he knew it. You could see it in his eyes when his conversation drifted--a frustration with himself, a slight embarrassment, as if he wondered, how did I get on that again?

There was such a feeling of incompleteness about Vin. He's another fellow who has found himself in a tight place. How did he get there? A bad knock on the head? Drugs? Depression? Tragedy? Perhaps even a demon or a curse of some kind. I pray for Vin.


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