“The reality is that each person on the subway would rather be left alone, isolating to their own bubbles, reinforcing their own judgments, hardened in their compassion—not engaging with other people nor appreciating the value of music.” –Mingjie Zhai
Fiction. Based on a True Look at Homelessness
This journal entry is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional
The homeless man’s name was Steven, and his dog’s name was Sasha. You’d seen him on the same corner a little beyond the bus stop you waited at all week. He sat against the construction wall in the shadow of Scott’s Monument. People walked by him all the time. You don’t remember seeing the dog, but you weren’t really paying attention to him. You turned your eyes away, avoiding the poverty.
You don’t know his story. You don’t know if the things on the sign are true. You don’t know if the money dropped in his bucket was going towards necessities or if it was getting used to buy drugs or alcohol.
Then again, it’s not for you to deny kindness to someone based on their circumstance.
When did poverty mean less deserving? Why have those with nothing treated worse than lepers?
Perhaps those of us with economically normal lives see beggars and see how easily we could become them when in reality we are all beggars hiding behind fragile lives. You turn your eyes away, passively accepting the societal notion that the poor have brought their situation upon themselves.
Undeserving. Leeches. Dregs. Unfortunate. Dirty.
Your heart knows that is all lies. You have seen plenty of homeless, cripples, those with cardboard signs, huddled masses in the streets, all with palms up and cups out.
Maybe you turn away because you know the needs are greater than what you have to give, so you try to block it out before the hopelessness overwhelms you. A cheap excuse. Apathy is the greatest killer of compassion.
So, you look. You look into the rugged face of a man. You take in the lines of his face. You take the time to see him. You don’t have anything to give besides your bus fare.
You spend the next day trying to figure out what you can do. Money is the easiest and opens many doors, but you wonder if it’s effective. Once you start thinking about things, the list of basic human needs grows longer. Food and water. Then you worry about what kind of food to pick out. Then you add some shampoo and soap. You just keep trying to add things to the plastic shopping bag, weighing it down with your expectations and good intentions.
Then you realize that you’re turning an act of kindness into something about you. There is an “I” in kind, but no “you.”
You take the train to the city and, armed with the bag containing some sandwiches, water, soap, and granola bars, you swallow your anxiety. The conversation possibilities run through your head. You had it planned right up until the moment you approached him and opened your mouth. All you learned was his name and his dog’s name. You gave him the bag and left for the bus. There was a whole story you didn’t learn because you were a coward.
But you learned the name of someone you didn’t know before. Maybe it’s the small actions of life that change the course of a person’s life.