Who We Are
I’m typically not afraid of them—homeless people. They’re all around my downtown office building. They’re usually pretty harmless, just wanting money, garbling a concocted story about how they’re new in town from Flint, and their car broke down, and they need money for a bus ticket. Depending upon my mood, I might reach into my wallet and give them a buck or two, or brush them off claiming I don’t have any money on me.
But this time was different.
This time, as I walked that morning from the parking lot to my office building, I spied a homeless man standing in the darkened basement stairwell. He was six feet tall or so, his leather face lined with life’s hard knocks. I guessed him to be about sixty-five.
His feet were wrapped in a sleeping bag, evidence he’d spent the night there. He stood at the bottom of the stairs next to his walker, relieving himself. The smell of urine doused my nose.
To my surprise, I wasn’t angry or afraid. Maybe it was his walker that disarmed me, the fact that he was old, so he didn’t pose a threat to me. Instead of fear, I felt compassion as a rush of gentle energy flowed through me, filling me with concern for the guy.
“Hey buddy, do you need some help?” I called down to him.
“No. I’m fine,” he said as he zipped up his pants, “I’m just waking up.”
“How about you come up here, so we can talk?” I offered.
He seemed gentle, composed, and accepted my invitation. As he proceeded up the stairwell, I moved down a couple of steps to help him with his walker as he leaned into the stair rail and slowly ascended.
At the top of the steps, he paused to catch his breath, lifting his nose to sniff the chilly morning air. He was calm. Unafraid. Unfrazzled. It was almost like he had just woken up from a good nights sleep at a Best Western motel.
“Is there anything I can do for you buddy?’ I inquired again.
“Nope. I’m all set. I just got tired of sleeping at the homeless shelter, and thought I’d try the streets last night. I’m okay.”
“Can I take you to the hospital or call 911 for some help?” I asked.
“No. I’m fine.” He reiterated, as I noticed not a lick of alcohol on his breath.
“I just need to get on my way. I gotta get me some cigarettes. I got plenty of money, you know,” he laughed, pointing to his pocket. Before I could catch his name he walked off, not asking for a dime.
My inclination was to grab my cell phone and call 911. But something inside me tugged at me to stop. He was walking slowly, but steadily, and definitely not interested in me being his savior that morning.
So, I didn’t call. I didn’t try to nab him and drag him to my car so I could drive him somewhere. I simply let him go, trying to pull my heartstrings off of his.
As I watched him stroll down the sidewalk, a knot rose up inside of me as a tear moved down my cheek. I felt both empathy and helplessness.
“Did I do the right thing?” I pondered as he faded into the early morning streets.
“Should I have done more?”
“Or was I simply called to treat him with respect and dignity that cold wintry morning, not badgering him for dirtying my stairwell?”
I don’t know to be honest with you.
What I do know is, my heart and his connected, if only for a moment. For a split second we were just two men talking to each other on the street. Shooting the breeze. Offering each other the time of day.
I could of—should of—would have—done more for him, I suppose. And perhaps with the next encounter with a homeless person I may. But this time, my heart tells me, what both of us needed that morning was the love and respect of a brief morning chat.
And perhaps life is simple as that. We discover who we are through the clay of our ordinary daily encounters, and when we touch those moments of love, we discover our essence. Evidence that we are the Divine energy of the Creator, called to live each moment in love, as best as we can.