The Pope of Greewhich Vllage
Seven years later, while I was living in NYC , I met a homeless man who could have easily portrayed Robin Williams character in "The Fisher King" He was what I would consider brilliant. Not quite a poet, the man could write some heavy duty prose. Alienated from society, he was always thinking outside the box and as I spoke to him, I would envision the man surrounded by voracious readers and would-be writers transfixed by the outstanding fluency of his rhetoric. I would picture him as a professor of academics in some fancy East Coast university and the "star" of such. His writings were not only fascinating, but also edgy, poignant and highly philosophical. He was worldly, knew Roman and Greek history to precise dates and even spoke some Latin.
I would share long afternoons with him listening to his arguments carefully, and learning much in the process. He didn't seem to want a lot from life, except for the tools he would use for his basic survival and the open opportunities, as he would call them, to learn something else, as a constant, everyday.
He said his name didn't matter but everybody knew him as "The Pope". His face was like that of a biblical prophet (some homeless people have a tendency to look that way); his weathered face told the tale of his hard existence, and his deep green eyes shone from the brilliancy within the frames of his glasses. Who was this so knowledgeable man? Was it my destiny to meet him? I don't think it'll be too soon before I will find the answer to that question. In the meantime, I keep on reading the manuscripts that he wrote and that he so kindly left behind. "For the kids that are yet to become whole"--he said, "and for you" as he went outside, back into the streets of New York City. He succumbed to pneumonia in that city on Feb 22. 2009. One year and one day today.
But he did leave in me a sense of wanting, a void that only pure knowledge would satisfy, even if I didn't know what that meant at the time. To never stop searching, never stop discovering. And to find out what really makes us tick. As human beings and as souls.
Maybe we'll meet again, Pope, in some other place, or alternate Universe...and I hope by then I'll have something to tell you that you would love to hear. Right now I have no idea what that is, but I have no doubt there's a secret on those pages. A message of some kind, a hidden treasure. And I will continue to try to decipher it. Perhaps then, I, too, will become what you meant by being 'whole".
Part 2The Pope endlessly repeats -as I pressure him to elaborate on a deep philosophical premise- "I have no message for nobody." Yet, ironically, all the people who've had the opportunity (and the privilege) to hear him talk, feel otherwise and flock instinctively to his unique brand of discourse. But that isn't easy because he organizes no gatherings, gives no "speeches" --ramblings maybe--, pushes no method, peddles no mantras, has no organization, no office, no secretary, no telephone number, no fax and no fixed address. How could he? Our Pope is homeless. But he has became a fixture in Greenwich Village and as he grows more popular everyday, he has managed to become, very unwillingly some kind of local hero, a legend in his own right. Pope is everywhere and nowhere. He stays with the streets, and they have become the vehicle by which he delivers his message. But he insists that he has no message, so the man has become a human oxymoron, a beautiful contradiction and a sight to behold. There was a day when he just disappeared. He stayed away for two and a half weeks. I tried to locate him by checking with hospitals, the local jail, the police precincts. Nothing. I even checked the morgue with my heart pounding in my throat, and an awful sickening feeling in my stomach. Nothing, no trace of him anywhere. The streets were lonely without him. Even Washington Park was depleted of the beautiful aura it always had. Everything had suddenly changed. Many people were wondering what could be done. He had touched so many souls that even the ones who didn't know him like I did, were truly worried, restless, anxious. There was no Internet or cell phones in those days, so I gathered a couple of friends and we hung fliers and posters with the ubiquitous, "Have you seen this man? When he finally returned, he had the nerve to ask, through a smart-ass smirk on his face, "Why are you treating me like a criminal with all those FBI-like wanted posters, where have you guys been all this time? We could only chuckle away with him as I felt a great benevolent feeling of relief and inner-calmness once again. So, after a quick pro quo, he confessed to us that he felt, all at the sudden, the need to be near water. Not to wash up, oh no ! but he had the imperative call of the Ocean, as he put it. The beaches of Coney Island and The New Jersey Shore. He recalled for us how liberating that feeling was. I had to concur since I understood exactly what he meant.
I came soon afterward to the conclusion, the magnificent realization, that I really, really loved this so strange a man.
by René Volpi