Name: Travis Fitzgold
Relationship to the Collective (or the event): First English Lutheran Church, 36 Days/36 Ways Challenge, 2018
Describe the event in three sentences or less: I decided to walk up and down Guadalupe St. (“the drag”) in Austin, holding a sign that said, “Free Prayers/Oraciones Gratis”. My goal was to evoke a response from young people (if not conversation), and to stay open to whatever would happen.
What did you notice during or about this event? I noticed that most people actually made an effort to avoid eye contact. Those that did make eye contact averted their eyes pretty quickly thereafter. Some people smiled. One person riding the other direction on a bicycle shouted, “Yeah, pray for me, brother!” Another person, when I asked if he would take my picture, required a fair amount of convincing before he would agree that I was actually not a Russian spy. I started a conversation with a homeless man named David. He treated me like I was absolutely normal. He identified himself as a Nichiren Zen Buddhist, and was currently working on 5 different books, including a socio-political history of mankind. His difficulty in making and keeping a buck, however, was getting in the way of his writing. David was kind and pleasant. I bought him a coke from Einstein’s.
What impacted you the most? The most impactful part of my experience was the difference between how I was treated by the “haves” and the “have nots”. I felt first-hand what it was like to be tacitly ostracized, and I felt a sense of compassion for those who are treated this way, but for reasons they themselves cannot change.
What impacted you the least? At the end of my walk, I stopped in a shoe store to look around. The salespersons were trendy young men, and I felt totally out of place there. They were sort of obligated to interact with me because of their role as salespeople, but I didn’t fit the stereotype of their traditional clientele. I was glad to leave.
What about this event struck you as spiritual and/or carried spiritual significance for you? I felt far more closely in the presence of God in dialogue with David than at any other time on the walk. He had clearly been wounded in his life in a variety of ways, but there was no pretense to his words or actions. He was simply a down-to-earth, flawed, frail, brilliant, beautiful human. He reminded me of the many ways in which the good news is “hidden” or “surprising” in Jesus’ parables.
What new or next thing, if anything, did this experience inspire you to do/be/or try in the future? I went out thinking that I would potentially have a conversation or two with some young people in their twenties. After the experience, however, I was far more interested in going back to talk with David than with the many people who intentionally avoided me.