Sunday morning, July 3. Walking to the gym through a deserted city. Seventy degrees. Overcast. Listless. I love summer in the city. The Whole Foods crowd has Tesla’d off to their beaches and mountains. Leaving behind quiet stillness, a smattering of foreign graduate students, and street people. Plus me, decked out in shorts and a straw hat and whatever adjectives apply to a guy who could be gone, but rejects the hassle required.
I cross empty Mass Ave at Porter Square. Before I reach the far curb I hear music. Loud music. Stirring music. “I Dreamed a Dream.” The original, Les Miserables soundtrack. When I reach the sidewalk I pause and seek out the source. Tucked in the weird little court near the subway station, shaded by a few trees, behind the Blue Bikes kiosk, sits a man. A burly guy with a tight white beard and ample, shapeless body. Barriered by a rolling suitcase and an assortment of shopping bags. I cannot see the boombox source of song. But it sure is loud. I cannot hear the man’s singular voice. But he sure is singing along. With enthusiasm.
I stand, transfixed by the anthem. Not of nationhood, on this Independence Day weekend. Rather of personhood. I dreamed a dream in times gone by… What do these lyrics mean to this middle-aged, likely homeless, man? When hope was high and life worth living… His outward appearance is not high, his life questionably worthy by most measure. I dreamed that love would never die… Could I imagine the warmth of love in his life? I dreamed that God would be forgiving… What had he ever done to deserve winding up here, by himself, on a gorgeous summer day, surrounded by a moat of motley possessions?
The guy was into it. Head bobbin’, mouth jammin.’ I could not help but smile. The tigers came at night, they teared his hope apart, they turned his dreams to shame. But here he was, still alive, still making music. Dashed hopes be damned.
I am civil to street people. I greet them, acknowledge them. I meet their gaze. But this guy does not see me. He is lost in a world far, far from Porter Square, someplace where he is vibrant and whole and full of promise once again. I want to believe that, in this moment, he is happy. For on such a fine summer day, don’t we all deserve to be happy? For the fact that his soulful singing reveals a humanity deeper, richer, than I’d ever granted a street person. A humanity that commands me to stop. To listen. To appreciate. To pray that whatever hope this man has lost, he will find once again.
The gym crowd on a sultry summer morning is scant as the citizens outdoors, weighted towards those who cannot afford to be elsewhere. Still, I have a great workout, and gift myself two sessions on the massage bed. I leave, showered, and fresh. Jay-walk across Mass Ave. But before I turn the corner at Upland Road I hear it again: more music. I stop. Cross back. There he is, still. Singing loud and proud. A song I do not know, Unreachable something. Not The Man of La Mancha unreachable. Something else. Fresher. Hipper. I smile and turn away. Hopeful that my fellow summer dweller finds his happy place in his song.