ain’t it pretty?

“Ain’t it pretty?” Johnny asked. “There ain’t nothin prettier than that.”

And there really wasn’t.

The unseasonably warm January sun peeked through the clouds just enough to make you squint. The loose crowd gathered under the I-35 bridge between sixth and seventh, some resting in metal folding chairs around a collection of plastic round tables that have seen better days.

Along the frontage road, a man waved a giant Texas flag with gusto, while smiling at passersby and pointing at the sky. It sounded like a Saturday night at the Broken Spoke. But instead of playing honky tonk tunes to the likes of Willie, Waylon and the boys, John Peyton, blues radio show host, wailed on his harmonica, belting out “Amazing Grace” with local musicians. Ms. Lorraine White, an African-American woman who is probably well into her sixties, donned a long chambray duster over her dress and a plush tiger-print hat titled back just far enough to see the creases around her eyes.  With microphone in hand, a string of “hallelujahs” rolled out of Ms. Lorraine in perfect rhythm, and from those seated in the folding chairs, open hands of all colors popped up against the blue canvas sky.

Some were tired, rounded shoulders slumped over, carrying the weight of physical, emotional and spiritual pain. Some were in another place, unaware, sipping a hot cup of joe as they waited for lunch to be served.  Some were joyful, clapping and tapping along, as they hung on each word of scripture and the sustenance it brought. And some were lonely, like Johnny, just looking for a place to be loved and encouraged his walk with God.

Johnny, 79-years old, is a diabetic. He plays the fiddle and can cut a rug on the dance floor. He stays at the Salvation Army, and is quite handy with household fix its. He is hard of hearing in his left ear, so always turns his head to get a better listen. His Stetson has a sweat ring around the brim – a companion he never goes without. He loves the Lord and talks about how so many on the street get caught up in drugs and alcohol, wanting to escape the hold it has on their lives.

“Do you have kids?” he asked.

“No, I’m not married.”

“Well, if I was fifty years younger, you’d be my kind of gal.”

I laugh. “I like you too Johnny.”

We shared a church service, not like most, and a long conversation over his cup of red goulash and cornbread. I listened mostly, smiling, laughing.

“Are you my buddy?” he chuckled, peering over the top of his sunglasses.

“Yeah, I’m your buddy,” I said, thinking that my Papaw would love to visit the afternoon away with this guy because he often asks me the same question.

The folding chairs were loaded one by one, and it was time for us to part ways. I told Johnny how good it was to spend the day with him, to read scripture and be encouraged. I was reminded that even though those who live on the street have their brokenness manifested in such a physical way, we are all broken one way or another and just like those hands lifted to the sky, we all need the healing touch of Jesus.

Johnny kissed me on the cheek. And I returned the favor.

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