Character develops itself in the stream of life. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We drove north. The snow had abated sometime during the night and the roads were clear. Three hours after leaving the city, we arrived at our destination. A small town courthouse where T., a client from the shelter where I work, had a date with a judge that afternoon.
The journey had not been without its highlights. My cell phone rang incessantly as friends from Choices, the personal development course T. had experienced two months previously, kept calling to wish him well, to let him know they were thinking of him, praying for him and standing with him in spirit.
T. wasn't really into talking. "I'm just plain scared," he told me somewhere between the city and our destination. "I know what I did and didn't do in this case," he said. "I will plead guilty to what I did, but I can't go down for something I didn't do."
The previous few days had been difficult. His legal aid lawyer had withdrawn from the case due to not having received any of the disclosure documents. T. couldn't ask for an adjournment. He'd already had three. He couldn't afford a lawyer of his own and there wasn't time anyway to bring someone up to speed. He chose to go it alone.
When we arrived at the courthouse, two other women were waiting for us. They had met him in Choices and were there to support him. They greeted us with hugs all around."We're here representing the whole group," one of them told him. "We're all praying for you."
The afternoon moved on. Defendants were called. Cases heard. Finally, late in the afternoon, it was Ts turn. As I was there as a character witness, I had to leave the courtroom. Nervously, T. motioned for all three of us to leave. He couldn't handle an audience.
We sat outside in the waiting room. Chatting. Watching the clock. Chatting. Sitting silently. Watching the clock. Chatting.
Finally, two hours later, a smiling T. exited the courtroom.
Suspended sentence. Eighteen months probation. His worst fear unrealized. He was not going behind bars.
"My legs are like rubber," T. exclaimed as we waited for his paperwork to be processed. A big man, tears shone in his eyes. "I'm going to be okay," he kept whispering to himself.
The phone started ringing again. Well wishes. Congratulations.
With every passing second of freedom, more and more tension lifted from his face. Finally, paperwork in hand, we drove off to meet the other two women at a coffee shop where they had gone to wait for us.
"Can we not talk about my situation?" he asked us, when he sat down.
We laughed. "Absolutely," we chimed in together. And we started sharing more stories. About life and love and living and being human.
Finally, T. and I took our departure and started driving back towards the city. Night was falling. The setting sun pulling the blanket of dusk into its warm rosy pillow nestling against the Rockies to the west.
My cellphone was out of battery and I had forgotten my charger. Music played. We sat quietly, side by side, driving into the dusk. Driving 'home'.
T. stared out the window and watched out for deer. For horses. Cattle. We drove through a native reservation. "Ok," he said. "Don't stop anywhere between here and the main highway."
I kept driving.
A few minutes later, we passed a village. A man stood at a gas pump filling his car. A woman walked hand and hand with her child. A dog trailed behind them. Lights shone in the houses nestled amongst the trees. Lawns were strewn with child playsets, snowmobiles and other country paraphenalia.
"Isn't that something," T. said. "I'm judging these people who are obviously just trying to get by in life, trying to live like everyone else, by the Natives I see downtown in the city. The ones who surround me at the shelter. Drunk. Drugged out. Begging for 'food'. (Food is street lingo for crack). I'm judging them like others judge me for being homeless. For having made a mistake."
He looked towards me. Compressed his lips into a straight line. Nodded his head up and down. "Gotta learn from my mistakes. Gotta stop judging people. Gotta start treating everyone the way I want to be treated."
Earlier he had given me twenty dollars for gas. "I don't want it," I said and tried to give it back to him.
"I want you to take it," he said.
I put it in my pocket. He was asking for what he wanted. It was something I could give him.
As we merged onto the freeway, he pointed to the gold sunset sinking behind the Rockies. "I can really enjoy that beauty now," he said. "Imagine the palette of colours you'd need to paint that." He paused. "You know I can never repay you for what you've done for me."
I took my eyes off the road for a moment and looked at him. "Every moment you live your best, you are repaying me," I said.
There's a miracle here. A man who believed he was destined to live a life of pain and turmoil, who could only express his fear through anger and addiction and acting out against the bonds of a society that constricted him, held him pinioned to a life he didn't want to live. He's learning to live up to his best self. To be the best within him every where he goes.
"I am a gentle man," he said.
"Yes you are." I replied.
His eyes grew heavy and he nodded off to sleep. I drove south. Darkness settled around us and in its depths, the promise of a new tomorrow grew with each passing moment.