This month was Lane County’s annual Project Homeless Connect, described on the program’s website as “a one-day, ‘one-stop shop’ event serving people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.” Back in 2007 Aaron Ragan-Fore interviewed a couple of the project’s clients for articles for a graduate program. We’re re-publishing it here (thanks Aaron) as part of a series on, and from some of Eugene’s homeless population -ed.
Though I offer to keep it under wraps, Paul Lehman wants his full name used for this article. Paul is a poet and author, and the extra publicity can’t hurt. Paul is also a guru. Consumer-driven culture holds no appeal for Paul, so he has elected to engage in a self-imposed exile from mainstream society, to shoulder a life of contemplation, and the lifestyle of a beggar.
At the moment, Paul’s immediate concerns are more earthly in nature. His bodily vessel is hungry, so Paul has made the trek from the mobile home park, his current base of operations, to nourish it. Yes, Paul is a guru, and he dresses the part. A maroon cap bears a Tibetan-looking pattern, crowning a gaunt visage of deep, watery gray eyes and a cascading white beard. At lunchtime Paul holds court, breathlessly reciting one of his own works to a couple of volunteers, a poem about personal growth, and the beauty of truth, and a higher power, surprisingly wrapped in an almost-iambic pentameter.
Neither a free meal nor the role of supplicant are new to Paul, but then he has played many roles in his six or seven decades on this plane… choirboy, soldier, high school teacher. Once he even helped build a boardwalk over a Florida mangrove swamp. Society is a curtain across truth, says Paul, a fog obscuring our knowledge of the power of the self. “That’s why I hang out outside the system,” he grins conspiratorially.
Paul’s self-appointed job is to free the masses from “the shadows of their own poor understanding.” He is Gandalf, Merlin, Teiresias, sprung from the storybook page to sound a word of warning in these dark times.
Historically, mankind feeds and clothes its prophets out of reverence, or awe, or fear. But eventually the wise men almost always combust, set afire by the glare of the social order they serve through its subversion. But Paul does not apologize, and has adopted his own credo, codified in the words of one of his poems:
“Twas then I set aside my reason, / In favor of the moment, / And began to live / in every season / Without need of atonement.”
Aaron Ragan-Fore holds a master’s degree in Journalism/Literary Nonfiction from the University of Oregon. He writes about popular culture, history, and the arts at inkville.typepad.com