A fellow runner and I were out in the community a couple of years ago, and we noticed a young man that was walking toward us. Runners and walkers are very fortunate in our area to have a place that the town has made very attractive and useful for our efforts. I had seen the young man walking the trail on many occasions before when I was running. He always seemed intense and he was also pretty stout. I figured he was some kind of athlete at the university close by. I had never spoken to him and he was always listening to headphones while he walked. My friend and I had just finished a run and were just standing there talking for a bit…and the young man came toward us to enter the trail close to where we were standing. Just being polite, we both looked up at him and said the typical, “Hey, how’s it going?” type of thing. When we did this…he looked up from the ground and met my eyes…and the whole scenario changed…

I had never thought about it until that moment, but I had never made eye contact with him before. As soon as he realized that we were talking to him, he ripped off his headphones and became visibly excited…literally shaking as he spoke to us. He spoke to us in very high and intense volume and at a very fast pace. He was excited about the fair he had just been to visit and wanted to share with us the things he saw there. It was at this moment that my friend and I realized we weren’t dealing with a university student…but a unique young man that sees the world very differently. As he looked at us and spoke to us, there was the brilliant gleam in his eyes that spoke of great innocence…the same gleam that is in a young child’s eyes when they see Santa Claus at the mall or like me when I sat in the movie theater at just under three years old and saw the very first Star Wars movie. We were speaking with someone of great innocence.

I asked him his name, and he said, “Jeremy!” with great exuberance. We talked for a couple more minutes and then he went on his way and my friend and I spoke about this young man for a few moments. We both wondered about his welfare…and we also discussed about whether or not people made fun of him.

As time has gone on, I have seen him many times…always walking very fast and hard…but his headphones have given way to a boom-box that he now carries up on his shoulder. Sometimes, he will have a small version of the Captain America shield, or even Thor’s hammer. He will sometimes wear a football helmet, a Santa Claus hat…and my favorite thing he wears: a sequined gloved that is made to resemble Michael Jackson’s glove. He will often have some type of paint on his face and he will break out dancing on the sidewalk as he walks when his favorite beat comes on. Often he will stop walking altogether and just wait until the music starts if he’s in between songs.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve spoken to him many times…although he never remembers my name. He simply says, “HEY, Buddy!” I asked him his age once and he said he was around 30 years old. One day, about a year ago or so, I was standing in the parking lot near the trail after a run and just cooling down. He came upon me and stopped his music (which means he REALLY likes you and wants to focus on you) and we talked for a bit. I don’t remember what we talked about…but what I do remember is that there was a group of young people that drove by yelling some insulting things at him. He didn’t seem to notice…but then he looked at me and said, “You just have to let some people say whatever and go on.” I told him that was absolutely right and we parted ways and continued on with our day.

I see him walking frequently and honk at him if I’m driving…and he throws up a hand in a very excited fashion.

Today…I decided to go for a long run. I started close to home and ran into town. I went down to the trail to get in a mile down there and then I saw him. He was going in the opposite direction and when he saw me, he yelled, “HEEEYYYY, BUDDY!” I said “Hey” back to him, but I was really hoping to keep moving. He asked me to stop for a minute. I told him I couldn’t really stop right now, and he said, “Please! Just for a minute.” So, reluctantly, I stopped and he proceeded to tell me that he had something to give me. He told me that I had always been nice to him and he had a gift for me. He pulled his backpack off, and reached into one of the pockets, and pulled out a small cross with a black cord attached to it. I immediately felt a little bad for not wanting to stop, and then I gratefully took it and gave him a big hug and said thank you. We went our separate ways and I passed him once more. He yelled out, “Thanks for being my friend!” I returned the sentiment.

I ran several more miles…and stared at the small cross occasionally…and then it hit me. I have always thought that I was being a “good Christian” by being his friend, but the greater reality is that I am much more fortunate that he is my friend.

He doesn’t even know my name, but he cares about me. He has no pretense…no image to uphold. He’s just Jeremy. If he wants to wear a Santa hat in July, he wears it and could care less what anyone thinks. One day he told me how much God loves him and he knew that for certain without any doubts whatsoever.

I want to be like Jeremy…I want to just be me…and accept everyone in loving, wide-open arms when they are just being themselves.

Thanks for the cross, Buddy. Some day, I believe you’ll know what it means to me.

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