I intended to post this yesterday, but I never could get it to come out right, so I decided to scrap it. Then when I went running tonight, instead of counting my steps to 100 and making sure I took exactly five steps on the short bridge and eight on the longer one, all I could think about was this post. I came home and wrote it, though I'm still not sure it came out right.
The first thing you notice about the man in the red suit is his outfit. The bright red coat, pants and tophat would stand out almost anywhere. But especially so on a steamy afternoon near summer's end, at a football game. That is when I first saw him.
Everyone else wore shorts or at least short-sleeves, except for the man in the red suit. He walked alone and at his own pace, a bit slower than the rest of the crowd. He seemed to be the definition of the phrase "in his own world."
Almost subconsciously, I filed him away in my mind as just an eccentric old black man. But as the weeks passed, I came to realize the man in the red suit was fairly well known around town. Or at least recognized. A couple of people even knew his name. And I began to ask questions.
Everything I know about the man in the red suit comes from things others have said. He draws a check from the government. He is always behind on his bills, but he pays them the best he can. No one seems to know if he has any family, but they have witnessed him speaking to his imaginary friend. And of course, there's the suit. No matter the season, no matter the weather, there is always the suit.
Casually and not really expecting an answer, one day I asked why he was the way he was. The answer came back in a single word.
It was spoken as if that one word should explain it all away--the curious attire, the imaginary friend, the struggling to make it on a fixed income. As if I am to accept it as that's just the way it is.
And with that, my view of the man in the red suit forever changed. Instantly, I had great respect and admiration for him. And albeit from afar, I felt a certain compassion for him. Anytime I see him now, it touches a soft place in my heart.
I also grew much more curious about the man in the red suit. I wonder about his life. I wonder if he has any family. When the fighter jets fly over before kickoff, does he get tears in his eyes like me? I wonder what he thinks about. Then I'm thankful I don't know.
Most of all, when I think about him struggling to pay his bills, I can't help but wonder if the country he risked his life for has turned its back on him.
A few weeks ago, I spotted the man in the red suit inside the stadium. He was sitting just a couple sections over from us. The crowd began to do the wave and I watched anxiously to see if he would participate. He didn't stand up, but did raise one arm as the wave passed by. I smiled.
The first thing you notice about the man in the red suit is his outfit. And that's OK. I think he has more than earned the right to wear anything he would like. But if that's all you notice, you're missing a lot.
On gameday, many fans put Bama flags on their cars. They fit on the side windows and most people have two flags, one on the driver's side and one on the passenger's side. At the most recent game, I saw the man in the red suit in his car. (Out of 92,000 people, we had parked in the same lot. Go figure.)
He had a Bama flag on one side.
And an American flag on the other.
"Some stood through for the red, white, and blue, and some had to fall. If you ever think of me, think of all your liberties and recall, some gave all..."