I’m traveling this week. I have mixed feelings about travel for work, but all in all, I try to see it as a positive. I prefer to be at home, but I don’t let that stop me from exploring a city, running its streets, and watching its people.
Today started off no differently than any other day when I travel. I had already located the nearest Starbucks, had my USA Today in hand, and was off to read, walk, and enjoy my hot cup of coffee. It was a bit drizzly this morning. The city was slowly waking when I started out, like it just couldn’t wake up after a night of partying. The gray clouds hung low, and there was a slightly messy feel to the air. That never bothers me. I’m from Seattle…rain is a staple! I read a few articles, checked email, and started off to explore the city before meetings began. I turned the corner, looked ahead, and knew I’d be lucky to make it down the block without some serious fight with my conscience.
There he was. The man with the dog. I’d not seen him yesterday or last evening. I came up on him, and he looked up. He was bleeding, unshowered, wearing torn up clothes, and had a faithful dog at his side. He asked for money, I honestly didn’t have cash. I said I was sorry, that I couldn’t help. I walked about 5 feet, and turned around. It was like an invisible hand that grabbed me. I didn’t think twice about it. I couldn’t walk away. I could not face the day ahead knowing I walked away, that I did nothing, especially knowing that I could do something. There was a convenience store right on the corner where he was sitting. I had tears in my eyes, and was looking around wondering what could make his life just a bit better even if only for a few moments. I found a turkey sub, an apple, and some first aid items. Even in this difficult situation, I couldn’t help but try to choose something relatively healthy. A product, no doubt, of my more privileged upbringing. A thought that minutes later would bring on shame and guilt in full force.
I walked out of the store, handed him the bag, and walked away. He was polite, he thanked me, and when I looked back, he was gone. I don’t know what I expected when I looked back, but I was surprised he had left. I walked on letting the full experience wash over me. Like I said, shame, guilt, sadness, confusion, incredulity, and a whole host of other emotions swirled around me. I wondered how life could turn out like this for folks. I’ve seen quite a bit of homelessness in my travels. Yesterday I came upon a mother with her two young sons, both of which were doing their homework, tucked into a cut-out on a bridge. It’s heartbreaking, and I struggle with it everytime I see it.
I walked around the block, tears flowing, trying to hold back the emotional tide I knew was coming. I quickly picked up my pace, and got back to my hotel so I could just let it all out.
I don’t have an answer or some catchy phrase to offer here. This is more cathartic for me than imparting some wisdom I learned. I am sad. Right down to my core. It feels heavy and dark, but somewhere in there is an appreciation. I appreciate what I do have, that I can feed my family, that I can work, that I can go to a doctor. So maybe that’s it. I am offering appreciation today. Appreciation for the details: the toothbrush; the glasses so I can see; the water and soap for a shower; the working bathroom; the bed with covers; safety. These are a few of the basics I overlook. Today, I’ll take notice, and be thankful.