I used to hate the homeless. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’d see one and equate him to a stain on the carpet or a zit on the forehead.
What’s their problem?
Why are they so lazy?
Why don’t they do something with their life?
Why don’t they get a job?
Why don’t they pay for their own food like me?
Why don’t they just leave everyone alone? Leave me alone?
As a lifelong introvert, it was quite convenient to excuse myself from any contact whatsoever with the homeless. As Traveling Golden Trout, I’ve seen many a city across this country and the UK too. I’ve encountered countless homeless people extending their hand or voice to me, only for me to turn the other way and walk a little — a lot — faster.
For dozens of homeless souls, this was my sole mark on their lives: ignorance. I will never again cross paths with them, and this will forever remain my legacy.
Do you ever think about the impact you’ll leave on any given person on any given day?
Over the last year or two, my eyes have been slowly opening to the cry of the homeless. Much of this positive change can be attributed to one Max Andrew Dubinsky, who often writes about his own interactions with the homeless on his blog. With both of us living in the Los Angeles area, it’s fair and sobering to say the homeless here are plentiful.
I try to look the homeless in the eye now. I slip them some money because, yes, I can afford it, even when I repeatedly tell myself I can’t. That a monthly “tithe” or “offering” can occur beyond the confines of a sanctuary pew.
Every once in a while I even engage in some phenomenal conversation with the homeless. The most notable of such interactions occurred with two men in Chicago amid my Eastward Ho adventure last spring. I still think about those two guys from Chi-Town nearly a year later.
But even amid my recent increase in confidence around the homeless, I have my shortcomings. My failures. My horrible legacies.
I was pumping gas the other day, a bit wearied by my schedule that day. I was tired. I had a throbbing headache. I certainly didn’t have an encounter with a homeless person on my to-do list, but nonetheless one such man strolled up to me.
“Hey, do you have any cash?” he asked.
I turned at the pump and examined his figure. I was shocked; he was a young man. Probably not much older than me. He wore a knitted hat and bore a backpack.
I grew cynical. As if his status combined with his youthful age presented an assault on the reputation of my generation.
“Nah, I don’t carry cash,” I said, the gas digits ticking past $40.00 behind me, at least ten or fifteen bucks tucked innocently inside my wallet.
“I take debit,” he countered.
I was, admittedly, taken aback. Was he joking? His face was straight and serious, and I had no idea how to respond. I’ve seen commercials for fancy card-reading devices you can connect to your phone, but surely this guy didn’t actually own something sophisticated like that.
After all, he was homeless.
Surely he had been messing with me. After a second-long stumble that seemed much longer, I finally said, “That’s okay,” turning back to the pump. As if those two feeble words would erase the entire situation, from my awkwardness to his homelessness.
And then this guy took my two worthless words and muttered three far more cutting ones of his own.
“Enjoy your Mitsubishi.”
I turned back to face the man, and he was already walking away. Left me to collect my gas receipt and the sum of my regrets. The rest of that day, the entirety of this last week, I can’t help replaying this single haunting thought:
I will never cross paths with him again. My legacy page in the story of his life: complete.
He might as well have socked me in the stomach before turning for the next cynical soul.