Thanks to someone better than I, my guilt has become useful. It transformed from a simple feeling of remorse. If I don’t act on the guilt it just lingers a moment then passes by after some other distraction fills my head. My impulse was to drive by, swallow that nasty taste of not doing. That seems to always be my impulse, to pass by. I think to myself “I wish I could do something for that person,” then plug my nostrils and let the smelly, stinky, awful feeling digest. Once it is swallowed it’s something for my body to work out, it doesn’t stick in my mind. Sometimes it’s consoling to think, “at least I’m concerned.” At the very least I am still a rational, caring human. But that only makes a difference for me. It’s always easy for I to remember itself. The other things that I wants or “needs” to get done. I is usually blind to what it can do.
He was holding a sign that said “Homeless.” Every time I see it, it hurts. I bow my head and it makes me want to pull my hair out. I feel powerless just like him. I think about his situation and what I, young I with little to my name, could possibly do to get someone a home. What put this person on the street? The easiest explanation is “it’s his fault.” But I know better than to think that. Where would I be without parents that support me? Without schools and church that give me goals and purpose? Without friends to uplift me in times of need? I would be homeless. All of those things are what I have discovered to be my home. Without them, I too am powerless.
“You can always go back,” said my wise passenger as we drove by the man. I was in the process of swallowing that thick dose of guilt when she made her suggestion. It then made its way back up my throat and into my head. The cartoony lightbulb in my mind flickered on and off as I weighed the options. On = you easily have two minutes to spare, just go back and help the guy. Off = you just have to feel bad for a second then the guilt will pass, you’ve got a lot of other things to do anyway.
I turned around and went back. It took another person to remind me that I’m not powerless, she reminded me that a little bit could make the difference. We rolled down our windows and started a conversation with the man.
“Hey there, what’s your name?”
“Hey! It’s Bill, what are your names?”
“Oh, like the President?”
“Yep” I chuckled, “like the president.”
We offered what we had and he thanked us.
“Well I’m getting closer to my goal,” he said
Rachel asked “what’s your goal?
“I’m trying to get a room for the night.”
Shelter. Something so basic. I have since realized that even if that man got his goal for the night, a room, he would still be homeless. In fact, even if he weren’t shelterless ever again he would likely remain homeless until he had someone else to share that with. Having a home didn’t depend on him as much as it depended on others, those that make up a home. If I didn’t have friends or family I too would be homeless, no matter how good my shelter was.
Maybe it would fit better if the sign read “Lonely, I do need money, but a friend would be better.” We didn’t give the man a home, nor a room. We gave him a few dollars and a few minutes of conversation. Hopefully he felt like he had a friend, if only for a minute.
At Christmas time we are reminded of what we call home. Home may change locations but it depends solely on the people that surround us. People we care about and that care about us. The greatest gift one can give at Christmas is a home.
As we talked to that man for a few minutes many cars passed by. People with a purpose, with a home and people to care about. Honking, speeding, smiling, laughing. Yet Bill stood alone on the street corner. Homelessness only happens when everyone else has given up on you. In the words of Connor Oberst “no one ever plans to sleep out in the gutter, sometimes that’s just the most comfortable place.” It's not his fault after all, it's the people who let this man lose his sense of home that are to blame.
At Christmas time the inner I always makes its wants known. I wants the newest video games and movies. I wants the best gifts. I wants new clothing and cool phones. I just needs to realize that I isn’t everything. I is homeless. I tries to find shelter, and does a good job taking care of itself most of the time. Yet, Christmas reminds us that what I really wants is not just shelter, I wants a home.
Though presents can be distracting and it’s easy to remember what we may want, things are only satisfying in as much as we have a home. Some time off work and good conversation should be enough of a gift from those we love. Do not let anybody you know be homeless this Christmas. If you come across someone who needs a home, who has nothing, give them a home by giving them time, by giving them a friend. Remember that you too are homeless without those that surround you. It’s not your fault you got so lucky to have people that love you. Share it, share them, share yourself, share Christmas, share your home. It's not anybody's fault that they have been abandoned, that they are homeless...but it may be your fault if someone you know is homeless, no matter how good their shelter may be. It's good to know that you can make something of that guilt you feel when you encounter another powerless person. Don’t just plug your nose and swallow it. Act. You may not be able to give someone shelter but you can do a little to make them feel at home. Love everyone. With that, nobody you encounter will be entirely homeless this Christmas. They will all have you to be part of their home.
(click here for my favorite Christmas song's lyrics, it has a lot to do with this same concept. It's called Rudy, about a homeless man who has a red-nose at Christmas time. It's pretty cold outside.)
This is not a public journal. There is no theme, agenda, or overall purpose. I need a reason to write and it needs to be well informed. I consider myself an expert in only one subject, my own thoughts. I am reflecting my experiences onto the internet because this seems to make them more beautiful to me, especially when they are idealized and inaccurate. This is not a mirror for me to see myself looking back, nor is it a mirror that reflects a detailed image of myself to others. This page is but a jumble of letters, words, and ideas that will be interpreted differently for each person, including myself. There are no mirrors because these thoughts are directionless, inaccurate, and fuzzy; a vague, splotchy reflection of McKinley.