Yes, there can. There is.
Here you are: He no less than an absolutely exceptional creature.
San Francisco, California
“You are the most outstanding creature I have met in years!”
How did he react?
"Oh, well, thank you very much! That is certainly appreciated!"
How did I feel?
The first time I met Jimmy Flowers I was busking and he tipped me. No dollars, no Euros, no booze. He did put a massive loaf of bread into my case, his hand on his heart and said with a steady voice: “Thank you for your music!”. I interrupted my playing, thanked him and found myself looking at a man dressed in seventies pants with colorful patches, a jacket with a flower pattern, two scarfs and gloves. In his button holes he wore flowers. His appearance could have kept my eyes busy for minutes. He was a piece of art. Next to him stood a woman. She handed me a plastic bag for the bread. Jimmy did not approve of that. Immediately his voice hardened and he started hauling her over the coals: "No, no, we do not have plastic bags for the hungry souls we feed! I have been doing this job for years and it does not include handing out plastic bags! This is not how this works, you have to listen to me!-..." As I watched him walk off, fighting with his volunteer and a bunch of plastic bags hanging from his arms I felt sorry for the girl. And I wondered: Who was this man? What was his deal? I was between angry and fascinated- and of course thankful for the bread which later turned out to be the best bread I ever had in all of the Bay Area.
The next night I busked again. And Jimmy returned, this time by himself. He gave me a piece of quiche. Over the course of the following weeks Jimmy turned into my steadiest donor: Night after night he passed by my favorite busking spot (in front of the Roxie's, on 16th and Valencia), each time giving me a piece of the most delicious baking goods, each time wearing a different set of clothes and each time thanking me for my music. I never witnessed him rebuking his changing female volunteers again. He became a daily part of my San Francisco life. But with me playing and him being busy on his leftover round we never chatted- until today, months past the day I first saw him.
After returning to the city one of the first things I did was sitting down in front of the Roxie and playing. It felt good, I love that spot. Movie theater customers waiting, homeless people walking up and down the street, bartenders on their break, smoking, dog owners on their night round, mexicans vividly discussing, tourists exploring the mission. Every 15 minutes the bus spits out a residents and visitors. The air is filled with car sounds, "ID please" (there is a bar right next to the Roxie), "got a spare dollar?", my violin playing and, once a night, Jimmy's "Want some bread?". The night I came back he was there. Smiling at me he said: "Good to have you back!". I was glad to see him. By then I knew Jimmy is a good guy. A little eccentric, yes, but saying he has been through a lot is an understatement. I had asked my friends about him, turned out everyone in the Lower Haight knows and loves him. Except, I suppose, for the people who knocked out his teeth on the street. He spends all his life out there, feeding people and planting flowers- Jimmy is a guerilla gardener-; obviously even a city like San Francisco has violence and crime. Though Jimmy has been a victim to that more than once he does not stop doing what he is doing. Quite the opposite: Over the years he has increased the time invested in his altruistic and artistic activities and by now they fill his life completely. This time I sat down with him and he told me all about it. Years ago he started planting gardens on Haight and Ashbury (see video):
At the end of his route he sits down at a coffee shop and waits for the rest of them to come and get some food and warm words. Jimmy has those. He chats with whoever comes, shows appreciation and interest, listens to stories and tells some himself. This ceremony is one of the most unique and beautiful family dinners I have been a part of. While waiting for someone to arrive he writes poetry and sends it to women in social networks. He does not expect anything from them though he does mind being rejected. Keeping his profile updated and sending out the poetry takes him several hours a day. Eventually he walks home, ready to start another day of poetry, flowers and kind interactions.
He knows he is kind and he phrases it. He speaks about his own story, too: Jimmy was born to a mother whose suicide he witnessed in his early childhood. A few years ago his sister drowned herself. Actually he lost his teeth twice and was beaten up several times. Knowing all that the man seems like a miracle to me. All he devotes to are beauty and kindness and every one of his actions is supposed to serve that aim.
Jimmy moved me on a deep level. While I saw a hard man the first we met now that I have gotten to know him a bit I see playful roguishness in his eyes when he grins and softness since he has started trusting me. He is beautiful through and through. Yes, he does have his edges and he wears them with pride. Jimmy stands out from the crowd- thank god he does- as angels and the dead ones speak to him; Sometimes I can follow him and sometimes I can't. But I can feel he means well in everything he does and he gives without conditions. Watching him do so brought me to tears: Sitting in the coffee shop after his round with him I observed how one person after another entered and got some bread from him. Some stayed for a chat, some didn't. Jimmy treated all equally: He welcomed them warmly. He gave them bread. He introduced them to me and praised each one of them. Wishing them all the best from his heart he said goodbye. What he got in return? Nothing material. But everything else, because plain giving is the most beautiful thing on earth. I have been thinking about this a lot lately and there will be a bit of theoretical insight to come, stay tuned- partially inspired by Jimmy Flowers incredible work.
Thank you so, so much for your trust and nearness with strangers, for your way of practicing inclusion and unconditional togetherness, Jimmy. I cannot express in words what witnessing that meant to me- but it caused a strong reaction in me and I will be sure to follow whatever has been set free in sharing your presence.
I am so, so grateful to have met you. (And of course for every slice of bread ;) )