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Homeless and Hungry

Driving back to college is always an adventure. The car is filled to maximum capacity with more clothes, more shoes, more books, and in my case, more instruments than you left with. And sitting alone while you are knowingly driving yourself away from your home and your family (no matter how dysfunctional they are) never feels right. Playing a good album is always a nice distraction, but no matter how loud you play it, it’s never loud enough to quiet your often contradicting thoughts of leaving behind the people you know to return to a place that still may be unfamiliar, yet at the same time, liberating.

So as I drove back to school this past Sunday, my mind was racing. Eager to return to my small apartment and have peace and quiet-quite the contrary to the noisy and chaotic nature of my home at my grandparent’s- I passed cars on the highway and watched the vivid blue sky pass overhead, while the sun warmed the car, despite the chilly temperature. Returning to the small, almost rural town I live in while at school was something I looked forward to after being in a more urban area for the winter break. Daydreaming about my new classes like Women Images and Realities, What Causes Cancer? and Human Biology brought a smile to my face. But slowly, as I got farther from home and closer to my own apartment, I realized new classes meant a whole new group of people to meet and try and make friends with. Loneliness crept up over me as I realized I’d be on my own again, despite having a roommate. I’d have to manage my own life again independently, and nerves began to gnaw at my stomach about whether or not I would be able to make this semester a holistic experience rather than a goal-reaching, linear one.

But as I turned off the highway and waited at a stoplight, the reality hit me in the face. I could no longer escape it. I had arrived. There was no turning back. The light turned green and right before I made my turn, I caught sight of a guy standing on the side of the road. In only a glimpse, I could tell he was a younger guy, maybe in his twenties, dressed warmly in a red hat and winter coat with a thick brown beard. He held a sign written on a piece of cardboard that said he was homeless and hungry.

Immediately, my thoughts had turned from being consumed with my life, my feelings, and my college experience, to the possible reality of this man’s life. When I was younger, my dad told me of times when he witnessed people asking for money because they were “homeless,” yet at the end of the night, would hop into a shiny new car. Not wanting to be scammed, I became skeptical of people who so obviously asked for help. Of course I wanted to help, but afraid of falling for a con artist’s scam, I usually passed these people by. I reasoned that if they really needed help, they’d know where to go (even though I don’t know where that would be) and that someone else would of course try and help. It just wouldn’t be me.

Continuing toward my apartment however, a feeling of empowerment washed over me: I had the ability to help this guy. No one could tell me to just keep driving or convince me he was a crook or to ignore the strings he had tugged at my heart. I wanted to help, but of course, I was scared. Arriving at my apartment, I unpacked my car, and began debating in my head. What if he is a crook? What if I try to help and he’s mean? What if he tries to take advantage of me? But on the other hand, What if he’s a good guy who’s had some tough breaks? What if you bring him a sandwich and you bring a smile to his face? What if somehow, by your small effort, you restore his faith in humanity, even a tiny bit?

Choosing to believe that this man really needed help, the possibility of changing his day-and even his life- seemed too important to pass up. It made my heart beat a little faster. It made me feel more alive. I decided to go back and see if he was still on the side of the road. If he was, I’d bring him a sandwich (I figured this would be better than money, especially if he was a con artist). If he wasn’t there, well…then I guess I wouldn’t. But I refused to entertain the possibility of his not being there. I hopped back in my car and drove back up the road to where I saw him, fantasizing about being the hero of the day. I could be the one person that showed this guy that he mattered and that someone cared about him. I couldn’t wait. I passed by where he had been standing, holding my breath.

But he wasn’t there.

My daydreams came to a screeching halt and suddenly deflated, I made a U-turn and returned back to my rinky-dink apartment to unpack my things. Again, I found myself reasoning in my head. You waited too long. He needed help when you passed the first time, not twenty minutes later when you finally got the courage. But then I thought, It’s the thought that counts. Shaking my head, I concluded, No it’s not. Your thought didn’t get that guy a sandwich when he needed it.

Maybe I was being selfish. Maybe it was my burning desire to be a hero. Maybe it was the unknown of what my day could be if I met this man. Maybe I just wanted to be the person to help. Maybe it was the sense of independence it gave me. Maybe it was my realization that this guy had a story to tell, just like you and me, and I wanted to be a part of it. But I had waited too long and he had left, either because someone helped him out or because he became too discouraged to stand out there any longer. I really hope it’s the former.

I wish I could find him and tell him I’m sorry I didn’t get there fast enough. I wish I could tell him I was on the way to help. I wish I could tell him he helped me realize that sure, college is scary and there are lots of new and unfamiliar things, but it’s not the only thing in the world that matters. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to get this education and I should make the best of it in all respects, but it’s certainly not all there is to life. People and your relationships with them make life meaningful. It’s not always about yourself. I wish I could thank him, because now he is a part of my story.

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15 thoughts on “Homeless and Hungry

  1. I experience that sometimes as well. passing on something where you could have helped a person even in the simplest ways. Then realizing after that I should have helped the person. And I regret things like this so much that I always say I should do what I could while I can. It really brightens my day when I receive help from other people, especially unsolicited ones, so I always try to remind myself that I have the opportunity to share the joy I feel to others by helping them. As they say seize the moment, and this one strikes me the most, the one about regretting something you didn’t do than something you did. This is a dilemma I always regret after if I did nothing to help.

    I really hope that that guy received help from another person that’s why he left the spot. These experiences are good reminders when I get lost in the thought that I am the center of the world. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for commenting! I really wish I could have helped him but if he got any help, I would be happy. I’m thinking positive and picturing him having a nice hot sandwich in a diner 🙂

  2. This is a brilliant post. I think many of us have been in this same situation. Do I help? Should I? I think you have to look at this as fate. You were destined that night to think about a person down on his luck, but perhaps not to help him. At any rate–you are a good person and one heck of a writer 🙂 Have a wonderful day.

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I know that many people are caught in a similar predicament when they see someone on the street asking for help. You are so nice and I hope you have a wonderful day as well!

  3. I used to volunteer as a street outreach worker. The group I volunteered with went out on Friday nights with a coffee van to talk with the many invisible homeless and houseless men and women living in my city. It was the most rewarding work I’ve ever done; not because I helped people but because they helped me more than I could ever help them. There was the man whose mind was ‘stuck’ in the era of Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison; listening to him talk and sing was like taking a step back in time. There was the young girl who lived in a cemetery who said cemeteries are not frightening places because no live person wants to be there so why would the dead stay there either. There was the young man who was addicted to drugs who produced a baby in his mid-teens and decided to change his life by attending alternative school.

    I learned that it’s the thought that is as important as the deed when helping others. Because just making that decision to help someone, even if you can’t give effect to the help, is the first step to opening our hearts and minds to actually ‘be’ helpful. 🙂 So don’t beat yourself up for not ‘doing anything’. The fact that you had the thought and the fact that the man wasn’t there caused you to write this post. This post has the potential to open so many people’s hearts and minds to the possibility of helping people in need. And so, you actually have ‘done’ something.

    • Wow, thank you so much for writing this. It really makes me feel better about not having been able to give him a sandwich. I feel like writing this post may help other people reach out to others on the street and even though I couldn’t help this one guy, maybe this post will inspire others to help a number of people. That would really be amazing. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, it means so much to me 🙂

  4. I used to carry McDonald’s coupons around for just this purpose. On principle, I oppose McDonald’s for all I’m worth, but it can’t be denied that it’s accessible and you can get a lot of protein for your buck. Like you said, I figure it’s better than money.

  5. True words dear. The same thing happens with most of us especially if you are a sensitive person. And what you went through is the reality of today’s world. Our trust is broken by others so many times that we hardly able to come any conclusion whether the respective person need a help or he/she crook.
    Its also true most of us are more blessed than other and in somehow all of us are connected. Hope if we ever get chance to help some one we help the right one,

    • It is so unfortunate that some people do break our trust in these situations and that we become hardened to most people that need help. I think it takes a belief that not everyone is a phony and that some people really do need help. Being a sensitive person in this respect, definitely makes it easier to help. I hope I get a chance to help someone like this in the future.

  6. We don’t know what the person’s story is, if they are genuine or not, but that is their responsibility. On my part, I need to be willing to give, to be generous. So now I give when I can in this sort of situation.

    • Exactly. We will never know if he was genuine; you’re right. But I’d like to believe he was. And I think it is great that you help when you can 🙂 Thanks so much for reading!

  7. Pingback: Who? Me? An Award? | Scribbles & Thoughts

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