What first caught my attention were his eyes, dark, untrusting, a little confused, and watching me warily. “Why would you want to take a picture of an old buggar like me” they said. More of a comment than a question. His eyes were almost black, a stark contrast to the white overgrown eyebrows, to his white hair and beard. His eyes also spoke of intelligence and pain, and wounds that never quite healed.
His complexion was a ruddy brown, odd for a man who was obviously “white”, but years of weathering hot summer days and cold winter winds had cast their shadows upon his features. Deep furrows creased his forehead and I had to fight the urge to run my fingers across them, to discern like Braille, what each of the furrows meant, what events chiseled them, how they came to rest on his face.
The collar of his shirt was stained brown with grime and sweat, and even on a cool Autumn day, the smell was ripe. And yet….I wanted to run my fingers, my palm, across his craggy cheeks, across his scratchy beard, through his disheveled hair, sending loving energy through my fingertips to his soul. I wanted him to know that I saw the beauty in him, and that I knew he was the sum total of his life and not just what the world saw on the outside. I wanted him to know that I saw inside of him too, and that I found a holiness there.
His face reminded me of a Toby mug, the kind I was fascinated with as a child. Even then, I ran my hands across the furrows, into the wrinkled creases, over the lips, and across the hair and beard. I’ve always loved the unusual in a face, the kinds of faces that wear a lifetime of stories on them, and whose eloquence is so pure, so true, that no words are necessary. This gentleman on 8th Avenue had such a face.
I felt no pity for this man, obviously penniless, homeless, and alone in the world. I felt, rather, a kinship with him, a flash of recognition, his humanity to mine. We are all the same. We all breathe the same air, walk the same streets, and dream when we sleep. Some of us when we are awake. Many are haunted by those dreams, and shut them out. We each find a way to cope and our way may be like no other. But inside? We’re all the same, and this man’s heart, as hidden away as it was, spoke to mine through his eyes, and I recognized it as the gift it was. A stranger touched me today, through the eyes of a gifted photographer.
*Photograph courtesy of Canadian photographer, John Fujimagari, The Stentorian Image, https://johnfuji.wordpress.com