This is the first in a new series of blogs written for our website by Humanity Project Founder, Bob Knotts, a playwright, poet and author of the book “Beyond Me: Dissecting Ego To Find The Innate Love At Humanity’s Core.” These blogs offer a more personal perspective on the goodness and inherent value of humanity, ideas that are the foundation of the Humanity Project’s work.
I’d like to introduce you to Jack. I never did catch his last name. Really didn’t matter at the time we met – to him or to me.
What did matter at the time, to him and to me, was Jack’s car. You see it in these photos I snapped earlier this month while on vacation in Key West. When I first spotted him, Jack was working intently to attach the latest additions to that extraordinary vehicle, only stopping once to scatter some food across the ground for a passel of local chickens.
As you know if you’ve ever visited in recent years, Key West is full of chickens roaming the streets and yards all around that small island. Mother hens, baby chicks as well as the many roosters that crow whenever they feel inspired, day or night. As you also likely recall if you’ve ever set foot in Key West, it’s a place full of … let’s call them local characters. Eccentric folks who are as much part of the funky laidback vibe as Mallory Square and Duval Street. The old-timers who never seem to wear more than a bathing suit and flipflops, bearded men typically standing around with a beer in one hand. The ample couples squeezed tight atop compact motor scooters that dart among the tourists. The would-be writers and artists and craftspeople who arrived temporarily in Key West long long ago but never could quite leave, most of them forced to survive on waiter tips or minimum retail wages.
So to me, Jack was just one more. Another Key West character demonstrating his independence from everyone around him – and making sure everyone noticed.
Then I decided to chat with Jack. “Quite the car you have,” I said. He replied in a thick Eastern European accent, “It’s my car … and my wife.” Or that’s what I thought he said anyway. But as we continued talking I finally understood what Jack really was struggling to express. I looked at him, puzzled now: “The car … it’s a tribute to your wife?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, nodding. “She passed away 20 years ago.”
This most peculiar car and its most eccentric creator were much more than I’d imagined. From a distance I could easily dismiss his existence with a condescending smile, adding Jack to my mind’s catalogue of Key West oddities. But looking more closely I soon could recognize something deeper about both car and creator. This automobile was Jack’s Taj Mahal, a monument to his undying devotion to one long dead woman. And everything on that automobile had some meaning about her. The mermaids were beauty and love. The dolphins represented freedom. And above it all, the image of his wife forever riding on the rooftop over Jack’s head.
“We were very close,” Jack told me softly.
How quickly we judge others in our world, judge them without the slimmest strip of knowledge to justify our instant conclusions. In our certainty we laugh at them, ridicule them, avoid them. The truth of those strange characters we sometimes see in passing through our busy day is obvious, afterall. Except that it isn’t. After a conversation of less than 10 minutes, my concepts of both Jack and his car were transformed. And I was forced to learn all over again an old lesson I should have remembered by now: People are rarely what they appear on the surface – and everyone, everyone has an important story that’s all their own.