I chanced upon a busker past 9pm on the 21st of May, 2015, as I was walking home after a dinner with a friend. It was getting late, I was exhausted, and all I wanted to do was rush home and sleep. But as he strummed the first few chords, I couldn’t help the slowed steps. I’m still not sure what made me pause, maybe a nudge from an angel, but I’m glad I did.
“Hey! I’ve not seen you for a while, how’ve you been?”
“Um, fine. Pretty tired, work just ended, but not too bad.”
“I’ve seen you around here before, haven’t I? I know your face.”
“Yea, was here a day or so back actually!”
“Ah. So why did you stop?”
That’s how I met Kenneth. Initially, he didn’t want me standing around listening to him perform, feeling discomfort as a mother cooking in the kitchen would when her children crowd around in curious awe, yet soon our conversations flowed, so seamlessly it’s hard to pinpoint what we even started talking about.
A Roman Catholic, a musician who nearly made it into Britain’s Got Talent, a past civil servant who saw Clean And Green Singapore, a humble, Christ-like figure who welcome a man, droven into insanity by his family, into his own home, a Eurasian, a preacher, a believer in astrological signs, an entertainer, a kind soul, and a big believer of honesty. In an hour half, I stood there listening as he shared his views on the world, politics, religion, life, people, relationships, hypocrites, but mostly on sharing life with fellow souls.
He was one of us, the ones who wanted to go beyond the people we know through family, friends, work, school or places of mutual interest. The ones who saw beauty, love, life, soul and heart, and wanted to be a part of it. I saw him, talked to him, understood, empathised, related, and found myself respecting and admiring this 71 year old stranger, who offered to teach me how to play the guitar.
As he spoke of his life, he matter-of-factly pointed to his little bag, proclaiming, “I’m a beggar. I’m not ashamed of that, I am one. A busker wouldn’t have a license and a money purse depending on people to donate to durvive. I am a beggar.” And I guess he was right.
Taking out a picture of Jesus Christ from his shirt pocket, he points out to me, “Look here at his right hand, Jesus is giving us blessing, the left points to the heart instead of the brain, because we need to give more attention to our heart. And all these light rays coming out, it is the actions of our faith and the goodness of our heart. Remember this, Joey, faith with little actions is shallow, faith with many actions is deep, and faith without actions is dead.”
To have met him was a blessing; it was what I needed. A refreshment of the soul in meeting another being aware of our inter-connectedness, unafraid to look up from our phones and talk to a stranger that intrigues us and draws us in. Why are we so afraid to talk to those we are drawn towards or are curious about? Are we scared to be ignored or scorned for wanting to engage in a human interaction with others, to make acquaintances without alcohol or mutual friends as a social lubricant?
Towards the end of our conversation, a man was loitering nearby talking on the phone, and Kenneth, unafraid to call out anything he sees an issue with, asked that man why he was standing there. The man ignored him, and walked past us like he didn’t hear him. A while later, he came back and confronts Kenneth, asking him roughly and filled with bravado, “What did you say to me? You were talking to me right?” To which Kenneth told him the truth, that he was asking him what he was doing there, and to leave us be now, for we were having a private conversation. When the man walked away, Kenneth told me that the man was eyeing me, to be careful and watch out for the guy. As I started to leave, he packed up his things, and graciously escorted me to Jurong East.
I’m not sure how to end this post, because I don’t think I can. What I went through today was something I need time to… reflect on, rather than just regurgitate with little drops of personal thoughts. He’s given me a lot to think, from my own personal relationship with God, the comforts with which I trust this man and the reasoning behind it, what I took away from this encounter and what I understand about this meeting’s significance. This isn’t a desire to write a Mitch Albom-esque novel, or to raise him to fame (though that would be great for him), but a quiet nod to the universe, to humanity, to life – I experienced a small part of the intensity and expansiveness that a good, well-lived life means. For that, I’m again grateful, that God (no matter which god you believe in, as long as it is the god who teaches us to love fully, completely, and intensely) has given me this blessing, that my whole life is filled with little moments of pure relations and conversations, if I only keep faith and trust and embrace my fellow beings as Jesus loved us. Unafraid of being judged, always ready to be an active part of this miracle called Life.