March 14, 2010 Seth Perkins

“All it takes to keep a man alive is…”

“… a positive attitude.” That’s what my friend said sitting next to me on the bench. I know we can all quibble about what it takes to keep a man alive and maybe come up with something else more poetic, but it wouldn’t be true, because the man who spoke this knows about staying alive in ways you and I don’t. My friend, William, spends his days in Rittenhouse Park, and his evenings, often times, at a train station. He has no formal residence. He has diabetes and has illnesses that come and go. This has been one of the harshest winters in Philadelphia history. Yet the man spends more time during our conversations talking about how to help other people, than talking about himself.

“All it takes to keep a man alive is a positive attitude. I could be lying on my back, dying somewhere, but I’m not.” There are other people in his situation who have gone over the edge. William offered one of them a sandwich yesterday, but the man declined preferring to “eat out of trashcans because his mind is so messed up.” William is not in that state and he’s thankful for that. He’s looking forward to the weekend, when we might see the mid 40s or possibly the bottom 50s. He’s looking forward to be able to take off his gnit hat and loosening his coat. He always asks me how my project is going and “how’s your girlfriend?”

Before I moved to Philly, I came to visit from LA, of all places, sometime around August. That’s the first time I saw that guy sitting there on the bench. I’m not kidding: 7 out of 10 people seemed to know him. Every 3rd person stopped to say hi. There’s a reason. He exudes optimism. He exudes joy. At that time, I actually said “hi” and we talked a bit. He introduced himself. I introduced myself. The funny thing was, I thought about him when I flew back to California. Two months later, when I moved to Philly, and I saw him, he recognized me “It’s Seth, isn’t it?”

I don’t know where I’m going with this, other than to iterate what we all should already know, and maybe too often deny. It’s not cheesy. It’s not oversimplifying, but it should never be considered profound. It should be obvious. “All it takes to keep a man alive is a positive attitude.”

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