Omaha’s heat bore down and pushed the thermometer to 96 degrees. Our most fitting escape appeared to be Brickway Brewery in Old Market Omaha, a brewhouse that Nate’s cousin, Sarah, had recommended. Waters all around for these guys. Then a root beer. Then IPAs. We aren’t doctors, but we’re pretty sure this method is standard practice – called “cooling yourself from the inside.” Tabbed out and cooled off, we set out on a walk in search of food.

Instead, we met Ezra. Ezra was half-seated on a ledge only a few steps down from Brickway. His neck and bald head dripped with sweat. He carried nothing more than a grocery bag with a few Styrofoam containers and a small towel he used to wipe away the sweat. As we walked toward him, he looked up and gently asked, “Hey guys. Would you be able to help me out?” We stopped to listen.

Ezra was short $11.50 for a bus fare home to Lincoln, NE, about an hour from Omaha. His story involved a car he once had, the oil he didn’t have, and the seized engine that took it off the road. We’ve noticed time and time again the new door that opens to the world when we begin to take steps backward from being the judge and jury of others. This was his story, and we knew we should lend a hand. After sitting down with Ezra and some conversation, we invited him to walk us to the Greyhound station where we could get him a ticket home. “Alrighty,” he said, a signature phrase he always delivered with a smile.

We walked and talked. Ezra had been staying in a shelter in Omaha for a few days trying to get back to Lincoln. His plastic bag was the day’s lunch, provided by the shelter, and he told us he only went there for meals and sleep; he felt being around “drunks and stuff” during the day wasn’t a healthy environment for him. “You surround yourself with that, you gonna be that!” he said. We also learned that he wanted work but had a difficult time finding it. He pulled up his shirt to reveal a deep scar splitting his abdomen from top to bottom. “I drank Liquid Plumber when I was two,” he told us. “I just saw my dad drinking from a bottle and wanted to be like him. I just picked the wrong bottle!” he told us laughing. His accident is also the reason his throat is now made of surgical tubing.

As we walked, Nate asked Ezra the one thing he was most proud of in his life. After thinking for a bit, he said with unwavering pride, “I finally went back and got my GED. Almost 40 years later.” Again, that joyous smile shined through.

We arrived at the bus station, and Ezra beamed as he held his ticket home. On the way back downtown, he lit up when we mentioned Minnesota, “That’s where Prince is from!” Ezra talked of First Avenue in Minneapolis and of the time he almost got Prince’s autograph – a perfect reminder of how we all seem to find common ground if we take the time. When asked what he would change if he could change one thing about his life. “That’s a deep one,” he responded. “I’d probably not have dropped out of school.” “Why did you?” we asked. “Mostly because of the bullying. I just don’t like violence. That’s why I want to get out of Omaha – the violence.”

We stocked him up at a gas station with cold Sprite and water for his ride home. And just like that, with a handshake and that genuine smile, we parted ways wishing him the best. “Alrighty,” he said as he turned his smile back downtown.

Listen to the stories of others. They can be food for the soul.

#ProjectWildness #LiveWildness #GoodInspiresGood

To Marv… Marv, you didn’t make it to see this post. Heaven called you before you could read this. Maybe that’s because we needed you on this one. Maybe this way you were here with us. Maybe you saw the good you inspired firsthand. You always told me you were just another old geezer. But I called you my oldest friend. You were one of the most humble, generous, and faithful people I know. And easily, the coolest old geezer. My dad told me you teared up when you talked to him about how much you loved what we’ve been doing. Maybe you already know, but I cried like a baby when I said goodbye to you. It was the first time I’d cried in years. I don’t doubt you’ve joined us on this trip. I’ll even let you take the front seat sometime. But sorry, no driving. J  Thanks for sharing a bit of your beautiful life with me. I miss you, Marv.

To Audrey… You are the heart and soul of so much good. You have always been the go-getter, the “young” lady with more determination in you than a roomful of others. You’ve organized countless causes helping your own community and those abroad. I’ve always admired your passion and spontaneity for travel. Remember when you called me to join you only a few days before you left for your ladies’ trip to Guatemala? You’ve seen so much and done immeasurable good in this world. I remember you saying that with your money you wanted us to go to a Greyhound station and help others. While today it was Ezra, being in that Greyhound station reminded me of that request of you and Marv, and the goodness in both of you. Thank you for being the light you are to so many.