By Abe Villarreal
Every morning I see the same man pass by my house. I live across the street from a gas station/convenience store. He walks in the same direction, moving slowly, not because he can't walk quickly but probably because he knows where he is going. He knows where he will end up for the day.
He has a cup in hand and he sips. His hair is standing up in all different directions. He's tall and lean. He wears the same outfit almost daily. I'm describing him because I don't know his name.
Sometimes, on my morning walk, we cross paths. He never looks me in the eye or initiates conversation. When I'm brave enough, I share a "hello" or "good morning." Only when I'm brave enough.
I always tell myself that I'm going to stop and ask his name. Maybe shake his hand. He must be a neighbor. After all, he's usually somewhere around the corner. He doesn't seem to bother anyone, and he's never seen with anyone else.
It's always just him. A man with a cup, walking away from the gas station and towards the downtown center. I don't know his name or where he lives because I'm like most other people, afraid to get to know someone that is not like me.
So, I gave him a nickname. To me, he is Alfred. I named him that because in my hometown there used to be another man like him who was one of those town characters everyone knew. His real name was Al. He's passed away now but we all knew him and still think of him.
Every town has its characters. The lady with the shopping cart. The man with the cup. We know them based on how we see them, but we don't really know them.
In school, we learn about community and how to build one. We are taught that if we all work together, hand in hand, we have a better chance of prosperity. When a neighbor falls or is in need, we are told to be there for him, to give him a hand, simply because he's a neighbor.
When we do that, we all rise. When we don't do that, we become fractured. Some of us prosper, others don't. My friend Alfred is not prospering. He's barely surviving. We all see it. We whisper about him to each other and express our sympathy as we wonder how he could have "put himself" in such a challenging life position.
In other words, we start to blame him. After all, we are at fault for our own demise or our own success, right? It's easier to think of the complexities of life in these simple black and white terms. I'm sure Alfred is as intricate and as interesting as a kaleidoscope.
He was born somewhere to happy parents. He was raised in a town, or maybe a big city, a small boy with dreams about the future. He worked for a boss in a company that hired him. He may even have kids of his own, brothers, nephews, and old friends he hasn't seen for some time.
Alfred is probably all those things. Just like we are all those things. One of these days I'm going to learn more about him. It may take a while and it may take more than just a quick hello as I pass him by, but I'm going to get to know the real Alfred.
He's going to share his birth name. The one his mom gave him. He will tell me all the things he's been through. If I'm lucky he'll share with me those childhood dreams. He'll tell me that those dreams are still his dreams and that every night he goes to sleep with them. Every morning he wakes up with them.
He'll tell me that he's waiting because he knows that one day, some of those dreams will come true. If I'm a good neighbor, I'll be there to listen and to help him up. I'll tell him that he's right and that he should keep on dreaming.
Abe Villarreal writes about the people, culture, and traditions of America. He can be reached at email@example.com.