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Michelangelo’s Pietà, St Peter’s Basilica (1498–99)

Why lead this story with Michelangelo’s Pietà? What follows comprises the worlds of art and religion, and the very human (and oft-forgotten) traits of love, pity and compassion.

That’s why.

By way of introduction, I am an author of fantasy novels and a Writers Guild member screenwriter. A recent Facebook Memory compelled me to recall two of the more memorable and touching incidents that have happened to me during past book signings, a memory that once again validated for me the bonding power of art.

To set the scene for the first incident, I regularly write at coffee shops, moving from location to location on a day-by-day basis. One morning, at my local Starbucks, a homeless man started talking to me about Jesus.

The man was clean, physically. He said he showered at a nearby gym, received some government money as a veteran and lived in his car. I believed him on all counts, as I had seen him interacting around the neighborhood. Never panhandling, Brad spoke to everyone who would give him the time of day. That would be me and one other, as he would later tell me. Regarding the religious discussion, I have no such beliefs and so I nodded my head, pandering.

“You’re pandering to me, aren’t ya?” he asked with a smile.

We became friends at that moment.

Brad was fascinated that I was a writer, and he would frequently stop by in the morning hoping he’d see me to say “hello.” During our second meeting, regarding his words about Jesus, I mentioned that I would be patient and listen, but admitted to him I was not nor would ever be a believer.

Apparently, he appreciated the civility.

Weeks later, this same homeless man shocked me when he appeared at my first book signing (at Vroman’s in Pasadena) for my novel, “The Chronicles of Ara.” He managed to find $20 for gas, and made the not insubstantial trek from Northridge to Pasadena to hear me speak. I was stunned. The next day I gave him a free book ... and reimbursed his gas.

The other incident, directly related …

At the same signing, my friend, Steven Goldmann, entered the bookstore with his wife, Stephanie, just as I’m about to go onstage. Steven was now bald, and weakened from end-stage cancer. Stephanie caught my eye and smiled as she pushed Steven in a wheelchair to hear me speak.

And I teared up just as I was introduced.

I stepped to the podium, full of emotion. My voice cracked, which was unusual for me in a public forum. An ad lib was in order.

“I’m not crying because this is my first signing,” I said to laughter and applause. “Stephanie, Steven … I need for this audience to know what has happened just now may be the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me.” Stephanie waved, and Steven tipped an imaginary hat for me. The audience turned to them and applauded once more, not knowing the full story but surely sensing the tough truth based on Steven’s appearance. “I wasn’t expecting this. I know it couldn’t have been easy for you to make it tonight, buddy … I love you both.”

It could not have been easy, to say the least. I’ll never forget it. Steven’s was an amazing, almost surreal show of support.

I went on with the program at hand. Thankfully, my ensuing words were well-received.

Then … the kicker. After my speech, as I was signing books, I noticed Steven feet away — with his head bowed, sitting patiently in his chair — receiving “words” from Brad. As in, religious words of support and healing. Steven was Jewish and yet he was as patient with Brad as I tried to be. Maybe more so. He closed his eyes as Brad held his wrist and said a prayer for him. And then Steven shook Brad’s hand and, from the heart, thanked him.

Again, I was touched. As an important aside, Steven was, prior to his illness, a prominent music video producer, and Brad was an aspiring screenwriter. They both told me later that support for my efforts brought the two of them together. And Brad, in a separate conversation, informed me that meeting Steven and witnessing his strength through despair had inspired his own artistic efforts.

One of art’s greatest powers: bringing people together.

My other takeaway? There is so much good in this world, and so many good people in this world, that it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in its occasional ugliness.

Thank you Brad. And Steven, you are missed buddy. Thank you both for everything.

I couldn’t express then, nor can I now, how much your efforts meant to me.

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.” — Leonardo da Vinci

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Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

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