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Character Sketch

By Jennie LaFortune

Sometimes I think small flickers of time and chance actually become bigger, longer seconds.   Those are probably some of the only times I feel like I understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Which, I know I really do not, but when literal seconds breathe longer – I feel like I do.

He was standing by the bus stop and I knew I had to walk past him.  I was late.  My heart races and ticks with the second hand when I am late.  I hate the reminding pulse and pressure of hustle.  I thought to myself,  “just smile and keep walking…he may ask for money, but just keep walking.”  I’ve been approached and asked a few times at this stop.  Amidst my self -imposed race, I nagged at myself for parking here yet again. But really, I didn’t want to walk past him with my painted lips, pencil skirt, and shoes that beat the female cadence along the sidewalk. I felt my material abundance made his lack more apparent. It all felt a bit ridiculous at the moment. And I was walking into church.  Holiness. Worship.  I judged his thoughts. His supposed words of my “holiness” as I walked past his obvious need.

But the thing about thinking you know what someone is thinking, is you’re assuming you know who they are. And I didn’t.  How could I?  Maybe unconsciously, but arrogantly nonetheless, I thought I knew his type.

I hopped out of the car and walked as fast as I could. He turned in rhythm with the noise of my shoes and smiled.  As the moment expanded and his eyes shined, he said, “what a beautiful smile!” And it was not creepy, and he didn’t want a thing.  He commented on my stone necklace and asked if I made it.

His tone was genuine, his voice was grounded, and I felt the gravity of my distortion between space, time, and judgment.

He had grey sweats on.  Oxygen snaked up his nose and tethered him to his spot. He had a calm presence. I smiled and talked for seconds then started on my way, when he quietly shouted, “keep being happy”.  He thinks I’m happy I thought.  I’m glad he felt I was happy around him.

He asked for nothing. He gave to me.  He assumed nothing and I assumed everything.

While this was only a moment, a brief sketch or facet of his character revealed truth. I felt his aspect of  consideration and acceptance if only for an instant.  In my rush and chaotic mental to do list for the week I thought this was one more small hurdle, but his words brought perspective and briefly grounded me.  As I walked away I felt happy.  I felt of his warmth and I wanted to turn around and say, where are you going? Who are you? Do you have a family who loves you? Why do you need oxygen? But I kept moving and time raced on.

But I could have stayed there a while.

About Jennie LaFortune

(Prose Board) is from Salt Lake. Figuring life out one book, beach, road trip, museum, and front porch conversation at a time. Perpetually on the search for the best dark chocolate, finest pen, and greenest field. When she's not teaching high school, she loves to spend time with friends and family, the shore of any ocean, holding her friends' babies, or taking long neighborhood walks.

8 thoughts on “Character Sketch”

  1. You are one of my very favorite writers. (I swear I'm not a creep) but i audibly said "YES!" when I saw a new post with your name on it. Your spin of words. Your imagery. They always make me pause, reexamine and think. Thank you for writing. Thank you for YOUR warmth.

  2. Anyone associated with Segullah who is a member of the Taylorsville Utah ward whose bishop dressed as a homeless person to see how his ward members would respond to him on their way to Church? I'd love to hear more about that.
    Thank you for sharing your marvelous gift of writing with this post. Amazing talent.

  3. Sarah- Thank you thank you. I always feel like I can't quite write the way I feel or think and the evil critic inside always, always says, "why are you writing, what do you have to say". So if a part of my words made you feels something I am beyond happy and humbled!! Truly. Actually surprised and in awe.

    Sharon, I can't believe I didn't connect that amazing story to my experience. I too would be really interesting in hearing from anyone who experienced that. I mean, wow right!

    Blue- Belle…thanks friend. I needed your encouragement!

    Glad to hear it Miss Heather!


  4. About five years ago I gave a homeless man a ride. I'd never done that before and I probably never will again–there are risks, but as it turns out, it was the right thing to do at the time. I was driving to the school to pick up my son (sixth grade). We live out of the city limits and I passed a man on a very rural road that generally never has anyone walking on it. He looked up and sort of flapped his arms as I drove past but it was his look of utter fatigue that I particularly noted. I decided that if he was still walking after I picked up my son, I would stop and see if he needed some help. (I really felt it would be alright but just in case I handed my cell phone to my son to call 911 if anything happened.) This man had gone to the store, spent too much and didn't have enough money to ride the bus back, so he'd started walking but instead of heading TOWARD the shelter, had gotten turned around and walked an hour or two AWAY from it (hence the fatigue.) He was very grateful when I offered him a ride. (When I asked where we could take him he said just into town, but since nobody just goes into town, I pressed the issue and that's when he admitted he was really headed for the homeless shelter, which would have necessitated another hour or two of walking, even with my lift.) So we drove ten minutes out of our way and saved him hours. He seemed so grateful for our help. The rest of that day I felt such a holy, sanctified feeling for what we had done. Even now, reflecting on it, I am so thankful I followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit to help him. I generally have a skeptical heart when it comes to people who want my time and means but this experience opened up the beauty of Christ's generous love in a way I had not understood before. It still blesses my life.

  5. My views were recently changed when I was asked for money and I was already refusing when I looked up to shake my head, "No." I was so distracted with toddler boy it took me a few minutes to sort out my feeling. Once I realized I felt I had done wrong, awful wrong by refusing to consider ways to aid this man I looked up to find him and he was gone. I was in a park adjacent to a grocery store and a café – if not cash then surely groceries or at least a sandwich. Since then I have tried to suppress the automatic refusal which somehow became built into my operating mode in favor of at least considering for a moment what I might offer.

  6. Ana- that is an amazing story. I know what you mean by being careful and discerning, but I'm sure that was an answer to his prayer.

    Janell- thanks for sharing! It is definitely startling (in a good way) when our vision shifts. I only hope I'm more aware because of it.


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