Memoir/Personal Essay, Writing

What “The Jesus Man” Taught Me about Life and Writing

The first time I saw him I thought, “This man must be nuts.” He was walking up and down the side of the road carrying his cross bearing signs of impending doom. I didn’t think I would see him again and he was quickly forgotten. A few weeks later, though, he resurfaced with feet firmly planted on the side of the road near one of our town’s busiest intersections. I passed through the intersection several times a day and just looked the other way, embarrassed by the brazen display of what seemed to be a mentally unstable man. As I drove past him day after day, though, he began to grow on me. There was one day in particular when the winds must have been in excess of 30 mph yet there he was still standing strong and sharing his message. As I watched him struggle against the wind to turn and face oncoming traffic with each light change I thought, “Now that is true example of perseverance.”

It was some days later, sitting at that same intersection, when I realized this seemingly unstable man had what I have been trying to find for years: unwavering passion and dedication for something. He has a message to share with the world that he deeply believes in and has found a unique way to share it. He is not worried about what others might think about him, being wrong, or errant in his thinking. The only thing he is concerned with is bringing his message to others so that they will be spared the pain he believes they will face.

I don’t look away when I see him anymore but instead admire him. He serves as a daily reminder that regardless of what others think, I should stay true to myself. Sometimes it is better to step outside the lines that define the boundaries of normal in order to get at and share my true self with the world. This is especially true with my writing as I struggle with where to draw boundaries. What is too much to share? What is too unimportant to share? What is the right and acceptable way to share? What if people don’t like me or my writing? What if I put myself out there and the world rejects me? Every time these feelings rise up within me all I have to do is think about “The Jesus Man” and his tenacity, courage, and raw humanity – he cares more about the pain others may experience in the future than the discomfort and pain he is experiencing in the now. He has transcended selfishness and arrived at a place where many of us (me included) aspire to be.


15 thoughts on “What “The Jesus Man” Taught Me about Life and Writing”

  1. This is the real thing, the good stuff, writing about every day things that we learn about ourselves and our creative wells, you have the eyes to see & the heart to feel the rel message – be true to yourself…brava, brava!

  2. I read the title of this piece and almost didn’t open it to read. I expected to find a conversation that I had heard before; one that was meaningless and uninspired; dogma regurgitated after centuries of right teaching and interpretation. But when I joined this collection of creative artists ‘Sarah’ welcomed me with a personal email; I’ve paid for your writings. So, I gave myself a mental scolding and read an essay that touched, moved and inspired me. Faith, passion, inspiration, integrity, great ideas and words, conversations that speak to a better world and humane action have become stuck in my craw after years of experience. And so my writing has stopped though the hunger remains to create, inspire and share. To enter the kingdom of heaven as a child is once again a parable with the power to teach and inspire. One must indeed give up reasonable ideas and down to earth interpretations in life experience and stand for something or simply drive on by the inpired and so get to work on time.

    Thank you

  3. I love the way you have interpreted this man’s behaviour. You are right, he is an example of standing true to your own unique vision. Your piece is really thought provoking. Thanks

  4. I almost looked away also. I’m glad I stopped and took the time. I love how you wrote about this. It is so true- You have to be true to your vision. You have to offer the best of yourself and your experiences through your art.

  5. Isn’t it funny how we almost don’t look at things because they contain words that have been forced upon us by others at one time or another? I am glad I opened your blog, Sarah. I have been learning a similar lesson about others, but have not quite applied to myself as yet. Your post was very refreshing and insightful. You are an inspiration to me!

  6. Thank you so much for this! So few people can get something beautiful from seeing street “preachers.” I usually turn away embarrassed as well. (It’s also a little too close to my conservative religious upbringing.) It’s nice to be reminded of what I can admire.

  7. I just absolutely love this. We can learn something from anyone, any place, at any time. You just have to ears to hear and eyes to see. As writers and artists, we are especially blessed with the gift of observation. Thank you for seeing this and sharing it with us.

  8. Wonderful insights, Sarah. How much might we learn from people and things we usually choose to ignore. I’ll remember this and see what happens.

    Lovely day today to open the windows of my mind and let the fresh breezes blow through, ;-).

  9. Hey! It was good seeing you last night, too! I miss our Residency days when we could sit around chatting about writing and books all day. Thank you for telling me about your new essay!

  10. I found you on Twitter and descided to check out your posts on writing. Read the title “What the Jesus Man taugh me about Life and Writing” and read past it, looking for something more interesting. At first I thought it was something with a religious twist and I wasn’t in the mood for that right now. As I scanned the other titles I couldn’t help but wonder what he taught you and how? I HAD to scroll back up and read it. I am so glad I did. You are so right about perseverance despite what others think.

    It reminded me of a story my friend told about about a hawk, perched outside his window on top of a telephone pole, scanning the area below for food. Nothing special about that except it was in the middle of a major storm in the dead of wiinter.

    It didn’t matter how much the sleet and snow pounded into the hawk as one of the worst storms in years blanketed the city into a frozen standstill; it didn’t matter that rodents and other small critters were already well hid and shielded from the storm or that flying in near tornado winds was almost impossible. All that mattered was he had a job to do: find food. Regardless of how remote the chance or how difficult the task, he had to find food to survive.

    My friend told me that hawk taught him a lesson: that it didn’t matter how slim the chance his writing would get published or how many obstacles he had to overcome trying, it all paled in comparision to what the hawk had to endure just to surive. It taught him that all too often we give up on the things we want because it is too “hard”, yet in this day and age most of us have no idea what true hardship really is.

    I enjoyed your story and your writing.

  11. Thank you, Sarah. Thanks for the process you went through, and for sharing it so well.
    What was missing for me was any idea whether you actually listened to him, after all your appreciation of his determination to speak to you.
    In my experience, the day you meet the one for whom he stands there, the true author of the beauty you love in the world, and the one who loves you with the fierce passion only faintly reflected in this man, will be the best day of your life… except for every day after that!
    So if you’ve come away with only a lesson on perseverance, most of the treasure is still on the table!
    Again, thank you. Well written.

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