“I’m sorry, sweetie. I used to be a boxer. My mind isn’t right now,” he glances at his shoes.
“That’s okay. You take your time. I’m not in a hurry.” I say, waiting for him to finish the story he had started about his wife.
His white beard parts as a jagged smile peeks out through it.
“She loves those little pug dogs,” he continues. “The guy at the store around the corner has one. She goes in there all the time just to love on that dog.” He chuckles.
I hand him a small wad of bills as he continues speaking, one eye on the traffic light. When the light changes I squeeze his hand.
“God bless you,” he nods.
“God bless you, Brian,” I say as I drive away.
It’s 30 degrees outside, and Brian is selling newspapers. There is an ordinance in the city where I live that prohibits pan handling. A kind soul came up with a newspaper called The Contributor that our homeless population can sell on designated corners to get around the ordinance.
While driving around with the heat on, I am annoyed with the winter weather. I’m embarrassed how much I actually complain about the cold. Brian didn’t waste a moment complaining. He would rather spend those precious minutes at the traffic light talking about something happy, like how much his wife loves little dogs with squishy faces.
Brian is an older gentleman with white hair, a long white beard, a weathered complexion, and kind dark eyes that smile in the corners. He’s bundled up well today, but the wind is cutting, and God only knows how long he will stand on the corner selling his papers. These brief interactions rock me to my core.
In the face of every Brian out in the world, I see my father.
My daddy is a bipolar schizophrenic. He dropped out of high school when he was 17 to join the army. He went off to Germany, and came back changed. No matter how dysfunctional my parents’ marriage was, I know that without the safety of my mother, daddy could have easily ended up on a park bench in Detroit somewhere.
I can’t help but wonder, would there have been enough kindness, enough generosity, enough love in the world to keep my daddy alive?
Would a stranger give my father his coat on a cold February afternoon, if he were on the corner without one? Would anyone take a moment to grab an extra cheeseburger from the drive-through to ensure that my daddy ate today?
Would anyone even see my dad, if he were standing on a city corner today?
I will never forget my first real encounter with a homeless woman. I was sitting in my car in Austin, Texas. Heat radiated off the sidewalk where the young woman walked from trashcan to trashcan searching for something to eat. I watched as she pulled an orange juice bottle from one of the cans and put it to her mouth. I couldn’t move. I was horrified, and sad, and outraged. Somebody should do something, I thought.
It wasn’t until much later that it hit me—I am somebody.
I’m a single mom. I work endlessly to provide a safe home for my son. What do I have to give? I have these few crumpled bills in my pocket and a hot cup of coffee to offer today, and nothing more. It’s a temporary comfort. It’s not a solution, but it’s something.
Even more than that though, I have a few minutes in between my errands to see Brian’s face, to listen to his stories, to squeeze his hand. I can take a moment to honor the person that he is. In that moment, he is my father, and my brother, and my son. He is a divine creation, full of love, and light, and goodness—deserving of all the same safety and comfort that I take for granted.
My daddy has beautiful eyes. They are a rare gray-blue color with gold rings around the pupils. Daddy swears it’s good luck to have those golden rings in your eyes. If he were hungry and cold on a street corner somewhere, would anyone stop to look my father in the eye for just a moment?
Would anybody listen to my daddy’s stories? He’s been married to my mother for over 30 years. He has three beautiful sisters. He’s got two daughters, and five grandbabies. He’s an artist, and a poet, and a locksmith. And, he’s got jokes. That man loves to laugh, and make others laugh. Would someone give my dad a few minutes of laughter today?
I wish I had a solution for homelessness. I wish that every man, woman, and child in the world had a safe home, a warm bed, and a hot meal at the end of every single day. Certainly, everyone is deserving of such things. And so, everyone is deserving of kindness, respect, and compassion.
How many people do we pass by every day without a thought? What might it mean to someone if we took a minute out of our day to talk with them, or to offer them a meal, or a hot cup of coffee on a cold February morning? Even if we don’t have spare dollars in our wallets, do we have some love in our hearts to give?
Do we know how powerful the kindness of a stranger can be?
Are we still waiting for somebody to do something, or finally, can we see that we are somebody?
Author: Renee Dubeau
Editor: Travis May