Driving along we see them in their usual places. Some still asleep, some busy in the trash gathering things to recycle, others patiently waiting for us to bring them food, or a smile. This week we had no socks and it seemed like everyone asked – that always makes me feel worse – when we don’t have something they all ask for.
I’m ‘immune’ to the drugged, drunk, sleepy, slurry, giddy, toothless, foreign accents and everything in between. I still see some I haven’t seen before. That is to be expected. Life on the street is transitory – some come, some go, some stay.
This morning a man in a brown suit (business suit) circa 50’s stood next to a bus bench. He had a colored shopping bag next to him and he appeared to be waiting for the bus. “There’s John.” I was informed. I had never seen him before. We were on a one way street all the way on the left and he was on the right side of the street.
I asked, quite loudly, “John, do you want some food?”
He nodded slightly.
So I went about gathering his lunch and tea and when the traffic was clear I jaywalked across 5 empty lanes of a very busy street. When I got there I said, “Good morning John,” and I looked into the saddest eyes I had ever seen. This man had sadness running into his soul. “Here is some food and ice tea.”
He looked at me and simply nodded again. I said, “Have a good week,” and turned to leave. I had to wait for the traffic to clear before crossing again. By the time I got back to the van John had already opened one of the lunches and was gently tearing pieces of the sandwich off and eating it slowly. I mentioned to Brother Ben how sad I thought he was and his response was he’s always been that way.
This morning was truly the first time in almost two years when I felt like crying – and then I recalled a conversation I had with a coworker this week. He was telling me how he had recently begun working with the homeless (and I am always delighted when the younger generation (he’s 24) starts this type of work so I was curious). Apparently he is the board at the Los Angeles Mission to configure their new website. He proceeded to tell me that the Mission brings in 15-17 million dollars and all the stars volunteer there (he then began name dropping). I then began to stop listening.
As I drove home after seeing all the regulars and John I thought about everyone I know and everyone I work with and how little all of us really know about each other and how sometimes all it takes is something as small as a smile, or a nod to show someone that they are important.