I came upon a man last week, he sat on the ground outside of the gas station I was walking into. “Talk to him,” I thought when I was walking in, but I didn’t, mostly because I’ve become exhausted with the eyes of those wonder why I do these things. On the way out I couldn’t ignore him. It’s dark out, and in my very soul I feel compelled to be unafraid, to know that this man is human, this man has a reason for who he is, for why he is the way he is.
Now that I have seen I am responsible. In all aspects of life, this is what I believe to the very core of my soul. What am I to do with this responsibility? Is it enough to care, to raise advocacy, funds, simply help is some way? What if my idea of help is not what is needed? We live in a society in which helping often seems to mean making people like us.
As kid I read of the atrocities of injustice; slavery, the holocaust, and the many forms of modern day slavery which have been a major part of my life’s work up to this point, and while I do believe that compassion ought to compel action, in the instance of this homeless man it wasn’t about starting an organization or even getting him off the streets. For me in that fifteen minutes it was about relationship; talking to another human from a different walk of life just to know him.
I sat down with him, knowing that I looked like a spectacle, like a girl who didn’t know any better than to talk to the lowest man on the street, the dirty one, the one with a backpack and some kind of story to tell. It took a moment of knowing what I appear to be, and what I am. I am hell bent of living outside of the normal confines of the American dream, I am determined to give some semblance of hope and joy to those who have had it taken from them. Why? I am no saint, just one with enough empathy to cause my eyes and heart to be quick to feel someone else’s pain. George Elliot once said, “To have suffered much is like knowing many languages. Thou hast learned to understand all.” As such I’m drawn towards other suffering because on some level I understand the language, and so I sit with a man with whom society deems as untouchable as an Indian leper, and I feel at home with his pain.
There I was, not sure if I should talk to him about his life, or try to tell him what he could to make his life better. I was about to sell him on a life that even I don’t want because that’s what society says will make a man happy; a house, a job, a car. I’ve often given value to people based on status, or no status, encompassing their occupation, popularity, appearance, intellect, it’s a relatively natural process but why are we not conscious of the ways in which we think? Why do we not break them? Why not override society’s norms and change the norms? It wasn’t my four dollar gesture into the pocket of Steve the homeless man that changed me, it was sitting on a sidewalk forgetting that he needed four dollars, because he didn’t ask for it. This I believe, Steve has value.