John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise LXX: Your Life Is Rich Because of Hobos

(Photo by Aaron Huber on Unsplash)

John Michael’s column Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise ponders life and people. In “Your Life Is Rich Because of Hobos,” he talks about suffering and how he arrived at his spirituality. 


The universe is suffering.

I have that thought once in a while and it leads me to believe God has a sense of humor and sarcasm. Of course, the universe isn’t suffering, people are suffering. The universe wants us to stop it and is trying to lead us out of it.

I attended midnight mass at the local Catholic Church and, I probably shouldn’t admit this, I had a couple of drinks at a karaoke bar before attending after not drinking for about a month, so my tolerance was low and I was tipsier than I wanted to be. One thought I had was, Man, these people are pious. It was, of course, a reflection of an aspect of myself that is very pious indeed.

I’ve often thought about being a monk, priest, or pastor so that I could spend my life in worship and prayer. As I write that, it seems maybe a little grandiose. It probably comes from my not-so-hidden desire for some unattainable perfection so that God will love me. But an old Hobo Metaphysic I wrote goes like this: “You don’t have to be perfect to accept God’s love, you just have to be.” A spiritual lesson I have yet to fully embrace.

Life itself is spiritual and there are many so-called profane things that bring me a great deal of joy. To be clear, finding your own happiness is the best thing you can do to restore peace and happiness to the planet.


To be clear, finding your own happiness is the best thing you can do to restore peace and happiness to the planet.


Two nights ago, I dreamt about starting a penny arcade with standalone video games for old duffers like myself to enjoy. I enjoy “cigarettes, whiskey, and wild, wild women” to an extent, but also as the song continues, they can “drive me crazy.”

I became a fat man living in my car, full of self-loathing and anxiety, for a year and a half while still working as a part-time reporter. Psychologically, my PTSD was full-blown at the time, and I think living in the car gave me a quick getaway if I needed one, while not being fully conscious of it.

I roamed through a used bookstore in Clarkston recently, as I love old books and classic literature and have started a small collection of sorts. I found a Jane Austen title I wasn’t aware was out there, Northanger Abbey. I mention living in my car because, even then, I was doing pleasurable things and thought I had read the entire Austen collection while pulled into various Florida Key rest stops.

I’m attaching deeper to my apartment; it’s decorated some but stills needs work. My meditation chair and the stereo unit, much of which came from a dumpster, are very comforting. I was leaving my place the other day and saw a couple of DVDs I was looking forward to watching sitting on the table. I got a little excited and said out loud, “I want a rich life.” My next thought caused me to pause, Your life is rich because of hobos.

I get my back up when preachers and others say, “They are in a better place.” My argument is this is a beautiful place as well. Trust me, I know where they are coming from, I longed for death much of my life as a way out of suffering. I even had a spiritual prophet of sorts I knew in New Mexico tell me I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay on Earth. I assume because of all the pain we are in here.


Also on The Big Smoke


By “hobos,” I mean us all in some ways. But also, the unpretentious humanity of homeless people and others who have and do struggle deeply in their lives; their kindness toward me and their friendships have made my life rich beyond measure.

When I was driving home from the bookstore, I had an unbidden request of a thought for God. Not sure if it came from my heart or my mind but it was this: Can I stay forever? Does that sound like the thought of an unhappy man? No, it’s the thought of a joyful man.

If I have any secrets to my success, it’s these two: I am happy to suffer when suffering arises, both in myself and when I see it in others, and I don’t have any enemies because I love them as Christ has asked me to do. I have heaven on earth, it seems.

When I was in grad school, I was doing a lot of yoga and meditation and was pretty happy but also zealous and pious. I went for a massage from a serious spiritual practitioner. He had these one-word Angel Cards on a table in the massage room and he had me select one. The card said: “play.” The universe is at play, folks. It can be a joy to suffer with others as I mentioned above, but I may give that up eventually as well and be an example of how to have some fun.

After all, me experiencing my eternal self for the first time didn’t happen after hours or even minutes of prayer and meditation, it happened while homeless when I was mucking around for a couple of weeks in fields of wildflowers on the North Texas Plains.


P.S. I don’t want to minimize your suffering or the suffering you see in others in your life. Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist monk, was asked what the most difficult thing about life was, that’s a paraphrase because I don’t remember the exact question, but his answer was surprising: “Not falling into despair.” What I am saying is the universe is joyful and you were created to live in joy, so why not risk it just a little?


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

Related posts