I promise you, that the length of this post is worth your time, worth grabbing your cup of coffee, and finish it to the end. I hope that the words I write strike a flame inside of you to speak with a stranger, and live your life from now on with love in your heart, and a smile on your face. As some may know, my biggest passion is to strike up conversation with those around me, and share stories. I am a sucker for a good story, and I always had a thought in the back of my mind that listening to a strangers story would be the ‘coolest’ thing ever. I’ve read many, many posts about it, and I’ve known others to do it, but I have never actually stopped someone I never knew to strike up a conversation. I could say it’s many things, like I have a small introverted side, or I am afraid, but in all reality all it really came down to was, it isn’t the ‘norm’ to strike up conversation with a complete stranger, in fear of being rejected, or dismissed. So, I decided to break all rules of the ‘norm’ this Saturday, December 21st with two very good friends of mine Haley, and Bryden. I must say that those two were the top two people who came to my mind when I asked myself, who do I know that is the most joyful, and most loving without being afraid to show it? So I have to give a big thanks to the both of them, for helping me out, because without them this project wouldn’t have given the same affect that it has in my heart.
To begin, the reason behind this project came from a contest with Flickr called #Flickr12Days I decided that I actually wanted to give it a shot, and try for the grand prize of a Canon 5Dmarkiii I have submitted the photos, and I am surprisingly happy to say that I don’t mind if I don’t win, I am just so grateful that it inspired me to shoot something I have always desired to, and the results have been overwhelming. In just two short days, I have begun to feel something I have never felt before, and an intensified love for this type of work.
As my alarm clock rang at 8am Saturday morning, I laid in bed with butterflies in my stomach of the day I had in front of me. I was excited, yes, but the nerves started to hit, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it anymore. Thirty minutes later, I got out of bed started to wash up, and began to get more and more excited for what was about to happen at 10:30am. I received a text from Haley and Bryden saying that they were at my apartment and ready to go! We started our walk to Nicolette Mall where the streets flooded with our unknown subjects. The moment we approached the first couple, I started to feel a warm feeling, knowing that the rest of the day would remain that way. The first couple shared with us their reason for being in Minneapolis, and the sad fact that they could not be with their kids this Christmas. It touched our hearts, knowing that all three of us would be with our families on Christmas, and this couple would not. As we said our goodbyes we wondered off to our next pair that was just as willing as the first. The man with the woman shared his interest in photography, and his admiration for what we were doing. As our morning continued, we ran into an adorable family, a women with a beautiful heart and desire for giving back to those in volunteering with The Salvation Army that once “saved her life”, another two families that were more than happy to share their lives with us for even 5 minutes, a church group that was giving out free hugs and hot chocolate, and in hope to find some warmth from the cold air we walked inside the IDS Building in the heart of Minneapolis to the beautiful sounds of singers as we approached them we exchanged in conversation our mission, and many of them hoped on board! As we debated to head back, and end the day across the room was a man, sitting on a bench with an old wooden cane, that truly God pulled at my heart to go talk to. I pulled Haley and Bryden aside telling them that we couldn’t leave until I talked to that man, and we got him on board for the project, and little did we know he would change 3 lives for the better. As we approached the man, we asked him his name in which he replied “I am Nathan” and he asked us if we knew who he was, we all looked at each other, confused, and said “I am sorry, but no, we don’t” he pulled out his licensee and hands it to Haley showing us his birthdate of the 1st of the year. We were hooked to hear what this man had to say, but he paused, and said “Let me tell you something, I am homeless…” as my heart began to ache for this man, I think he could see the tears start to swell up in my eyes (hey, I can be a major softy) and he instantly assured us that he was “happy” and said that Jesus was walking in sync with him, never leaving his side. I suddenly began to slowly close my eyes thanking God for this man, because I knew right then and there my life would never be the same… Those words “Jesus is walking side by side with you, never leaving you” are words I have heard before, I grew up with those words, but I have never heard those words like he said them. I unfortunately missed the next 30 seconds or so of the conversation because I was so struck, and my heart was filling up. As the conversation continued, Nathan and I exchanged verses from the Bible that he cited reminding me the power of God. The tears started to come again, and the goosebumps welled up all over my body as this man stared me straight in the eyes, without even blinking, saying the power of love, the power of Jesus Christ, and the power of living life to the fullest. I stood across a man I recognized, and my mind started to drift again as I saw not only Nathan, but my grandfather Forrest Noakes, and Jesus. Sitting all together at this bench speaking to me. I haven’t seen my grandfather since the day I held his hand in the hospital bed, as his grip turned to a cold hand I clenched on to. Nathan than said to me “you are about to cry” and he was right, the tear shed and all of it started to make sense. Nathan, was a man sitting across a room, that I NEEDED to talk to, I NEEDED to photograph, and a man who woke up that morning, just as I did without a clue of the upcoming events of that day. I grabbed his hand, and I asked him to do me one thing and that was to take the advice he was giving us, and to keep doing what he is, even if being homeless made him happy, I told him I knew that God had a purpose for him, and he was fulfilling part of it in that moment with us. I handed him the only money I had, in hopes that he would use it for whatever he could. I prayed, for the slight moment I held his hand that God would give this man the blessings that I am given and grant his life with blessings galore. We handed Nathan the board, and he wrote on it “Jesus loves you! Happy New Year!” The conversation continued, and when I didn’t think it could get anymore powerful this mans eyes now stared directly into Bryden’s asking him “What kind of attitude do you have about life” as their conversation was going on, I couldn’t relate to what Bryden and the man shared together, but I could relate to the love I saw in the both of their hearts, as they shared their stories within minutes, and sharing that they were both in fact gay. I have always supported those who love who they love, and I have never looked at someone differently for that reason. So to see Bryden look at me once Nathan asked him if he was gay, and to look back at Nathan straight in the eyes and say “yes I am gay” my whole face lit up, and none of us saw what was coming next.. Nathan’s words “so am I” and Bryden’s instant response with his knees to the floor, completely blown away. This was a moment I am forever grateful for witnessing as the two held hands and shared their love for who they are. It was a moment, I will never forget, to see the true meaning of love. Right in front of my eyes. I had the conversation with Nathan, that instantly connected with myself, and so did Bryden. How could this not be something of the works of God? I sit here writing this, hoping you are still reading so you know the ending, and are smiling with proof that kindness does still exist, and love is so true.
I have suffered from what I consider a lot in my life, and you may also could say that. The person right next to you could say that, and a person across the room. But it is how you take those events in your life, past, present, and future that make who you are. No matter what struggle you face, please know that one day it will all be worth it, one day you will have a conversation like this, maybe you will even be a Nathan in someones life, or a Nathan will walk into yours. I didn’t expect this on Saturday, I had no idea, and the day has forever changed who I am.
If you made it through the whole post, thank you, because I know that Nathan’s words were not meant for just Bryden, Haley, and I. But for you as well. I hope that you can walk away from your screen with a desire to share who Nathan is, and share with someone who might need a ‘pickup’ or a reminder that love and kindness is still there…