*** I had a flashback late Friday afternoon as I found myself on a local commuter train or light rail as we call it in these parts. As I sat there next to an elderly woman who had rode across town to get tests at a hospital, it took me back to an experience I had years ago on light rail. When I had originally written about it, I had NO idea how it would play out a few years later. It gets me thinking once again, am I really living with my heart wide open to the stories around me?
Please meet Constantino Bustos-Cruz.
Constantino was a rough looking short guy who wore a hard helmet with Tino painted on the front. He was an older man, but was probably much younger than he looked. My guess is that he was actually in his sixties. But, the years of living on the streets and such provided obvious wear and tear on his appearance.
With white curly, raggedy hair and a out of control fu manchu goatee, Tino sat in the seat behind me on the light rail.
I had briefly noticed him when he got on the train. So much so, that I sent myself an email with a brief description of what I saw. You see all kinds of people on the train. So many people, so many stories.
I really don’t remember how our conversation started. However, I realized very early on that with his broekn english, I was only going to understand every fifth or sixth word he said. But, it was at that thought that I realized that understanding every word he said was not the point.
It was taking the time to look him in the eye, treat him like a normal human being and that he was valued that was the point.
From our conversation, here is what I learned…
1. He is from Mexico City
2. Came to US in 1982
3. His “momma” had three girls and three boys
4. He last visited them in Mexico City in 1995
At one point in our conversation, he showed me a picture of a person whom he said taught him english. He then asked me if I knew any spanish.
“Barely.” I replied.
I then launched into the only spanish I knew.. his response to each time I spoke something in spanish was priceless. He had the kind of laugh that made you want to continue to make him laugh.
He would place his two small hands in his face and look down with this high pitched rough sounding laugh. It was good to see Constantino laugh. I hope he laughs often. Not sure how much he has to laugh at.
Uno Coca por favor?
Chaufer esta muy loco en mexico!
humiliense enla presenious el senor.
I then told him… that’s all I got. and of course… he laughed.
He then told me about getting up every morning at three am to catch max downtown and begin picking up cans and bottles. Tino had an honored citizen max pass giving him unlimited access. Not sure how you get one of those, I thought as he proudly showed me his card.
On money, here is one of his stories about Portland…
Money, it just shows up. Comes from nowhere. Do you know the Coliseum? I was down there and these people would reach into their pockets and money would come flying out. I would go into the bushes and pick up the money. it just shows up and I get the money.
On prescription drugs…
the government… they just keep giving me free pills. I don’t know why, I just get more and more and more. (he then does his laugh routine. I laugh with him. people on the train stare.)
At the end of the train ride, I shook Tino’s cold, red, and very small hand. I said God bless you and keep the hope.
As the train passed me by, I looked up and saw Tino one last time. He waved goodbye to me like that of a little kid.
Sure, I didn’t understand much of our conversation. But, I did understand this… people matter. We cannot and should not judge how people get to be where they are. We are all God’s children and creation. Let us not just walk on by and pass up opportunities to make someone’s day.
And maybe just maybe, that is why Tino sat behind me. Maybe he wanted to make my day.
Tino… well done. Mission accomplished.
Recently, I received this message from someone I have never met before on Facebook:
I want to make sure I have the right person. Do you have a site called Gunnar Speaks? I had googled a name, my old neighbor, Constantino…The sweetest blog came up. I said to myself WOW, this guy got it. A man named Tino with his hard hat on lightrail. I sure hope you are the guy!!!!!
I just found out a few days ago he was in hospice and went to see him last night. He truly has been through so much. My heart was so touched when I saw what you wrote. My sister said she knew exactly the descriptions you were talking about. You captured him so well. I hope you don’t mind but I copied it and put it on my Facebook with a picture I have of Tino. I can delete it if you prefer. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to a man that a lot of people won’t.
I lived next door to him for a few years, and we are seen at the same doctors office. I felt the need to google his name..and there was “Who Will You Meet Today?”. What you wrote has brought tears to myself and those who have read it. Everyone that knows me, knows how much I care about Tino. I am just amazed at your insight. Thanks for allowing me to share you meeting with Tino! I think it’s a great tribute!
How does one respond to this? To be honest with you, this has broke me. I am so inspired by my new friend and her heart to be with Tino in this hour.
From a post on my new friends wall..
Praying for my old neighbor Tino…Just found out he is dying from cancer….I can’t imagine having no family to surround me…I am planning to go see him…I hope I can get there before he is gone! Love that little guy!!!
And with this, a challenge to us all from my new friend Megan…
So now I want to challenge my friends and family…One random act of kindness to a stranger that you think people would otherwise just walk on by!!!!!
Megan, you inspire me. For Tino… go love someone right now… just because.
On December 26th, I was able to meet Meg and her father while visiting Tino. Listen here for my Immediate reflections from visiting Tino.
I will follow up with two more pieces inspired by Tino. Please be looking for them next.