• With a bible in one hand, he’ll be walking toward the light

    by Erika Fiske

    If you’ve known Joseph for any time at all, you’ve probably seen him with his tattered Bible open to a favorite passage. You might have seen him along a street in Monterey, playing his harmonica and looking like he just stepped away from panning gold in the Old West. He’s short and a little ragged looking, with a black hat, leather jacket, a grizzled beard and an easy smile.

    Joseph is a street musician, a minister and one of the homeless. He looks much older than his 57 years—-probably from all the alcohol and cigarettes. On this sunny, Sunday morning he joins a large group of people just like himself, waiting at Window on the Bay for the weekly prayer circle and breakfast for the homeless, led by another local minister, Brian Bajari.

    Many here look like they’ve lived hard lives and are tired of moving on from place to place. It’s a stark contrast to the wealth and beauty surrounding them— the snow white sailboats bobbing in the bluest of waters, the warm sandy beaches and the bustling wharfs.

    “I’ve been homeless since my wife, Cathy, died 28 years ago,” Joseph said, still a sadness to his eyes. She died of cancer in New Mexico, a week before her 30th birthday and eight years after marrying Joseph. With her passing went Joseph’s happiness.

    “I loved her so much,” he mumbled, adding that without Cathy, his life just fell apart. Soon Joseph was medicating him- self with heroin and other drugs. Over the years, he moved from Florida to Texas to Montana, finally landing here a year ago.

    “I like this town,” he said, smiling through his beard, and glancing down at his Bible. Sunday is a favorite day for Joseph, as he joins others in prayer under the morning sun.

    Putting his Bible aside for a moment, Joseph carefully opened a piece of cloth in which six small harmonicas were neatly lined up, awaiting the next street performance. “Someone just came up and gave them to me,” he said, gently running his hand over them. Joseph had another harmonica before these, but it was stolen when he left his bag outside a Walgreen’s store.

    In his younger days, Joseph also played the trumpet and clarinet, and had more than a few jobs— from electrician, roofer and concrete worker to fisherman, carpenter and tugboat crew member. “You name it, and I can do it,’he said.

    But Joseph doesn’t really do it any- more. He never quite came back to society after losing his wife. “Yeah, I still miss her,” he said. “I was praying for her last night. I pray for her every night.”

    Joseph believes he would still be in the tree service business and still have a home if his wife had lived. “Now my ar- thritis is so bad nobody would hire me,” he said, blaming the pain on a gunshot wound from Vietnam, when he was an Army tunnel rat with the 101st Airborne Special Forces. He says he had the dangerous job of crawling through tunnels holding gre- nades in his mouth and looking for booby traps that might kill American soldiers.

    The vet was shot when his platoon was ambushed. “I was the only one to come back,” he said, looking down. “I was the lucky one. It took me three days to crawl back, because I could only crawl at night. And I was in a lot of pain.” His reward for seven months of service was a dishonorable discharge. Joseph was lying in an army hospital when a First Lieutenant walked up and gave him a hard time for surviving the ambush. Unable to listen to another word, Joseph raised his fist. “I knocked him out,” he said, eyes staring off as if he was back there watching that scene again. “Everyone in the hospital ward was cheering me.”

    Joseph recalled another time he almost lost his life due to hypothermia, when he fell into the water during a boating incident and was barely pulled out in time. “I saw a white light, and I was already heading toward it when they grabbed me,” he said. Joseph expects to find that light again someday. For now though, he keeps playing his harmonica and reading his Bible. “Home is wherever I put my head down— a park, the beach, wherever,” he said, stroking his beard and glancing at a small bracelet of crosses around his wrist.

    Joseph’s been a minister since the early ‘80s. “I was sitting in my jail cell for third degree robbery,” he said. “While I was there, I took ministry school. The preacher came in every week to teach us. After three years in jail, I was released and started doing street ministry.”

    “I read the Bible every morning and every night,” he added. Joseph believes he can heal people, although he hasn’t been able to heal himself. After 47 years of using the “most addictive drug” of all—tobacco—his health is failing.

    “I started smoking at the age of 10,” he said, putting away his harmonicas with weathered hands.

    Living on the street this way doesn’t worry Joseph, because he knows when his time comes the arthritis will be gone and his lungs will be clear. And with a Bible in one hand, he’ll be walking toward that light— and back to the only woman he’s ever loved, gone so many years ago.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on July 6, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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