You all hear my stories and see what I do. My full-time job is to love the homeless and forgotten people of this world. I try to convey my feelings of heartbreak and frustration so that you might have some feeling of compassion or possibly look at these people differently than you might have before. I don’t speak from the position of experience to the situation, but rather from a place of empathy.
I have never been homeless. I haven’t had a life trauma happen that rendered me incapacitated to move forward in life. There’s never been a time when an addiction to something has taken complete control of my life. I was born with a sound mind and raised in a family that taught me what’s acceptable and right.
What allows me to write the things I do is my willingness to put myself in vulnerable positions with people who haven’t experience life in the same way I have. Through these experiences, I am able to truly see things as they are - not just look at a situation and assume. This statement was never truer than the situation I put myself in this past Thursday night.
Let me try tell you about it.
I have talked about Maureen before and posted pictures of her. She is one of my favorite people. She’s sweet, caring, and truly trusts God in the most amazing ways.
Maureen sits outside of the entrance to Penn Station, at the corner of 31st Street & 7th Avenue. She is always there - warm or cold. I always look forward to seeing Maureen. She lights up when we see each other and she always gives a great big hug. I have learned that she loves a hot black tea, with LOTS of milk, and a straw. She also loves coffee crumb cake! Every week that I am there I go over to Starbucks and get her the treats she loves and a drink for me, then we just sit and talk for 15 minutes or so. It’s the best! This past week when I saw her though, she was a bit more reserved and I noticed she didn’t have one of her suitcases.
As we start talking, I come to find out that the previous week while taking one her many trips to a hospital for cancer treatments, she had her bags stolen. So now, instead of sitting in her folding chair someone had given her, she was sitting on a broken milk crate. Instead of wearing the new shoes a passer-by had provided her with, she was wearing open toe sandals. Her hair was not brushed because her brush was in the stolen bag and this woman who is usually bright was now extinguished. So heartbreaking and frustrating.
Luckily, Johanna, a co-worker of mine, was also in the area with a group of volunteers and they offered to go get Maureen a new hairbrush and finding out about her shoes, a pair of those as well! In order to get her the right kind of shoes and hairbrush, they asked Maureen if she wanted to go with them, and she did.
Knowing someone needed to stay with her remaining belongings, I volunteered.
So, there I am. Alone, on the broken crate. This will be a good learning experience I thought, to sit in her place for a little bit while they ran to the store. It won’t be that long, it won’t be too bad.
It was a very busy night. It was rush hour, trains departing to head back to New Jersey, out to Long Island or upstate NY. In addition to the commuter traffic, there was a Rangers game getting ready to start at Madison Square Garden a block away. Fans everywhere getting ready for a good night.
Then there was me. The guy sitting on the broken crate in the middle NYC. Alone.
I started out trying to make eye contact and smile at people. I love smiling! I love being the happy and fun guy, that’s who I am, so why change that for the situation? As I started looking at people I couldn’t get anyone to look at me. Every so often someone would glance at me, but then quickly look away. Now I know, this is NYC, everyone is busy, no one makes eye contact. But, as I quickly found, that just wasn’t true.
People started looking at me, then shaking their head in disgust. People took the long way around me to the door further away. One lady purposely put herself between me and her kids.
I started to get cold. It was windy and I hadn’t worn enough layers.
Not a single person said hi or smiled.
Is this really what it feels like? It had only been 20 minutes. My eyes filled with tears. (Like they are now as I rethink and write this - in the middle of Starbucks)
How dare you? I help the homeless, I’m not homeless! I’m a husband, a dad. I serve my state in the Army. I live my life to help others. You don’t know me, how can you assume what you want about me? How can you be disgusted by me without even knowing me? My heart was broken, my attitude hardened - and this was in 30 minutes. At that moment. Maureen and the ladies came back from their shopping trip. All I could do was just hug Maureen.
Before I left, I asked her if she ever gets frustrated or mad by people’s attitudes towards her, she said, “Yes, people can be very mean at times.”
Then I asked if people are ever nice and loving, to which she replied, “I have met some of the most beautiful people and Angles out here.”
In just 30 minutes, I was able to be knocked down to nothing. And that’s me, I can reason with my mind about people’s intent. They’re busy, they are in a hurry, they were burned once by someone and cannot forget that moment. Despite all of that reasoning, it still didn’t take away the feeling of despair inside of me. How must people who have been homeless for years feel? What must a “hello” or a smile do for someone’s heart and life? Have I ever contributed to these feelings? God, please let me see people differently. Please, let me take the time to at least smile and say “hi”, despite how much I am in a hurry.
Can you do the same? Please?
I have said this many times, but for consistency’s message: You never know what someone is going through or has got thru to get them to where they are. Everyone struggles with stuff, some people’s stuff is easier to hide than others.
For this instance it is a homeless person, or someone who just looks differently than you or me. Other cases could be your boss that’s in wrong, your friend that is speaking out of frustration, or your spouse that is driving you crazy. Stop for a moment. Don’t just react. Wait and be slow to speak, or slow to judge character as a whole based on the present, outward, facts.
I am learning this on repeat as it seems in my life right now. Maybe it will help others that need to learn it as well. Slow to speak, quick to listen. Slow to speak, quick to listen. Be humble. Love.
Thanks all for reading and following along, please like, comment, or share!