At first glance, Monty was one of the most physically unattractive people I had ever seen.
It was at the end of sultry summer day in Edmonton, Alberta and I was exhausted and hungry, having spent the bulk of the afternoon pounding the pavement and speaking with folks who know the street as their home.
Now, it was pushing 6:00 pm and I was supposed to pick up my son so that we could have supper together. I was walking across the city hall plaza where water fountains provided a respite from the heat for some toddlers as their watchful parents sat at the pool's edge cooling their ankles.
I walked past an elderly man sitting at a picnic table with his head resting on folded arms, apparently fast asleep. His bare, bulbous, filth-encrusted feet poked out from beneath the bench—seat, socks and shoes flung casually aside.
I gasped after a brief side-ways glance caught sight of his exposed nostrils revealing hair-stubble like a coarse shaving brush, "That's gotta be the ugliest man I've ever seen! Thank God, he's asleep," I muttered to myself, only to be confronted by that interior voice that never knows when enough is enough, "Just stop for a moment."
"NO! I'm hot, I'm tired, and I'm hungry—I have to go!"
"One minute?" the voice pleaded. I knew that voice—it could be relentless.
"OK, one minute!"
I turned around and stood in front of the picnic table hoping the fellow would remain asleep. No such luck. Instantly, his head popped up as he eyed me inquiringly. My legs sagged and I somewhat reluctantly sat down across from him. I introduced myself and he told me his name was "Monty" and that he was "a bottle-picker".
That was the start to a fascinating, engaging conversation as Monty told me about his life traveling across Canada, trying to raise a bit of money for food and a place to sleep. From there we went on to art and life and faith. And of course, he was more than willing to let me take some photos of his face and his feet.
After a half-hour, it really was time to go—my son would be wondering what happened to me. We shook hands warmly and wished each other well.
It was some time after I left Monty at his picnic-table that I was confronted by this truth—perhaps for the first fifteen, or twenty, seconds I was aware of Monty's appearance. After that, I never thought about it again—we were just two guys sitting at a bench interacting in a deeply human way. Later, when I had the pictures developed and looked at the photo's of Monty's face I wondered where the 'ugliness' had gone to. It seemed to me that he had the most beautiful face in the world—what had I been thinking?
Turned out to be a sacred moment—a sacred place; and I almost missed it.
The Head Over Heels series: a brief artist statement
Everyone has a story to tell and every story is worth the telling. But there are stories we are afraid to tell and others we are inclined to ignore, or overlook. Such stories are often difficult to hear and, as a result, we are quick to erect walls that separate, isolate, alienate "us" from "them". Yet these are often the stories that need to be heard most desperately.
The Head Over Heels series seeks to break down such walls by telling the stories of those who are often made to feel that "they don't count"—the marginalized: the homeless, the sick, the elderly, little children. Their stories are presented through the portrayal of their faces and feet. A face reveals much about the journey of one's life and feet enable the journey to unfold—one step at a time.
Hopefully, by viewing these works we will be reminded of this simple, yet surprisingly delightful truth: the Creator is head-over-heels in love with everyone of us.