I’ve recently been blessed with the opportunity to talk with two homeless people. It seems a bit odd to put those two words: blessed and homeless, in the same sentence. My experiences have left me with an array of mixed feelings, but I feel privileged to have met these gentlemen, in spite of their circumstances.
It was in the parking lot of a grocery store that I met the first man. He was in his 50s, with a scruffy beard and unkempt clothing. He only asked for my cart so he could retrieve the quarter from it. How humbling it must have been for that man to have to ask for a cart to get a quarter. He was careful to let me know that he didn’t want to frighten me. He told me he would help put my groceries in my car if he could have my cart. I told him I could load my own groceries but he could have my cart, and he walked with me to my van.
While loading my groceries into my van, I asked him where he lived. He said a friend of his was letting him live in a shed in the back yard. I asked him if he needed food and he said that he had eaten a meal that day so he was okay. He told me that he had electricity and running water in his shed so he felt very blessed to have that much. We talked for a few more minutes while I finished loading my groceries. Then I dug through my purse for some money and said “God bless you” as I handed it to him. My words felt lame and the money felt like not enough. He looked at me through rugged looking eyes and said, “He just did.” I smiled at him. He walked away with the cart as I climbed into my van.
I cried on the way home. I cried for the way this man had to live and I cried because I felt that possibly I had received a greater blessing than the homeless man. I felt the greater blessing of being able to give and it opened my eyes to my own recent struggles that now seemed a little less complicated compared to what he was going through.
The second homeless man I met was also in his late 50s. He could have been younger, but his weathered face made it hard to tell. He asked me for $1.50 so he and his two friends could eat. He told me his name was Jonathan. He was unkempt and had a scruffy beard, but he was polite and kind and addressed me as ma’am. I asked him a few questions and my heart went out to him as he told me his story. He had been a successful businessman just a few years ago. He had a wife, who was now divorcing him. He had a nice home on a lake and two cars. He said he had made a lot of mistakes and this is how he ended up.
Jonathan told me what it was like to live on the streets. His story was heart wrenching and I tried to imagine how it must feel for a man to come from a good life to living day to day without a place to call home. His stained dress pants were held up by a belt around his too thin frame. Food and shelter were only half of his worries. Surviving was a huge concern because of some “bad apples” who were also living and trying to survive on the streets. Imagine trying to just get by day to day and then having to worry about other homeless people attacking you and trying to take the meager amount of possessions you have. He spoke of how he had friends that watched his back. He kept pointing out his “backs” that were watching him as he spoke with me. He was using crutches from a recent street injury. His forehead had a cut on it from someone hitting him with his crutch while trying to steal something from him. His arms were full of bruises and scars. He said he had been stabbed three times and shot once and that if you live on the streets you have to become a fighter, even if you weren’t one before. He was proud when he spoke of the people he hung out with. He got a sparkle in his eye when he mentioned how they took care of each other and always kept an eye out for each other.
I thought of all the mistakes I’ve made in life. None of them left me even close to the position that Jonathan was in. Would I have the same gumption to go on living day to day if I were in his shoes? I don’t think most of us would know how to answer that. It’s hard to imagine and yet Jonathan described to me what seems to me unimaginable.
I didn’t change his situation, but he was able to tell his story. He will still sleep in a parking lot or the woods tonight, but his voice was heard. I pray it gave him some hope when I listened to his story. I pray that Jonathan felt a little less invisible as he was able to tell his story. Sometimes what we need is for someone to be interested in who we are. Someone who is curious about our lives. Someone who will listen to our story. Hopefully it helped Jonathan get through his day a little bit easier.
I prayed with Jonathan before I left him with a few groceries and a little bit of money. I prayed for God to intervene and to give him and his friends strength while they were waiting on God to help them. It seemed like not enough. But I do know that God is enough and if nothing else, I pray my meeting with Jonathan will open up his heart to know God a little deeper and to lean on him a little harder.