What I Learned from Buying a Homeless Man Breakfast. #bloglikecrazy
“But we progressives have done our share of offending, in ways we sometimes don’t even realize are insulting.” ~ Van Jones, Beyond the Messy Truth
My sister had a work conference in Denver. I drove out from our home in Ohio with my dog Phoenix to meet her.
During the days, I wrote and took breaks to take my dog the four blocks to the patch of grass called a dog park.
On these walks, I saw an abundance of homeless people. Normally, when a privileged gal like me crosses paths with homeless souls, it’s a brief encounter.
Often, I’m going to a concert or play. I see sad eyes, a sign, or a request for help. I often give. I often don’t. I move on, back to my car and my comfortable home.
In this case, it was back to our Marriott Hotel room. My schedule and mind were open. I was on vacation!
I felt both guilty for making my dog stay on the 11th floor of a hotel and kind of giddy to see her riding elevators and indulging in city smells.
I felt safe with Phoenix’s 90-pound Black Lab body beside me. If alone, I might not have ventured out at all. Typically, I’m confident, but I wanted to be invisible to any danger, which I sensed in the city air.
Witnessing so many homeless people several times each day weighed on my heart. I felt helpless, but what could I do?
On day two, at a breakfast spot that allowed me to order at the door and wait outside with my dog, I doubled my order and asked for two bags.
I set out on a mission to give a hungry person the same delicious breakfast I indulged in. I asked God to lead me.
What about that guy across the street? I thought. Oh, poor guy. He doesn’t even have any shoes. Oh, wait, he’s got one shoe on.
Something happened to my body as I watched the man spread his toes and inject a needle between them. Heroine? I felt drenched in sadness. Some things are best left on TV.
Well, he’s not a candidate for the food. I felt defeated and walked back toward my hotel, still searching. There were some guys in a group who said hello as Phoenix and I walked through them.
As I neared the Marriott, I saw a man digging in the trash. As I approached, he moved on.
From behind his back, I hollered, “Hey, guy!”
He turned, as if he was in trouble. I said, “Are you hungry?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Here, I got you breakfast,” I said, handing him the bag.
He grinned the most beautiful smile a toothless man could.
Happiness. Relief. Gratitude. His. It all hit me like light from God.
Hours later, as I was leaving the hotel lobby, I grabbed a second cup of coffee. Off my dog and I went so she could practice crapping on a city sidewalk.
It wasn’t long before I saw another man digging in the trash. I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned with a defensive look of anger and shame.
“Do you want a cup of coffee?” I asked, as I held the cup out to him.
Relief. Humility. Grace. He nodded and took it. I moved on.
A few yards away, another man stopped me and said, “I saw what you did. That was really nice of you.”
“It’s the least I could do,” I said.
I didn’t expect to be noticed, but neither did the guy digging in the trash.
Shouldn’t we notice each other? We look away, not because we don’t care, but because it feels overwhelming.
Yes, I did something nice.
To give to someone in need, scrounging for the basics you and I take for granted, is a tremendous high.
Because I slowed down and looked, one simple act entered my mind and was easily delivered.
Sadness seeped into my soul as I tried to imagine being homeless and hungry.
I’ve actually never been hungry—not like that. Not where I’d abandon my pride and dig for something to eat with people watching. That’s hunger.
I’ve rarely gone hours on any morning without a cup of hot delicious coffee. It’s a little thing, my morning routine.
How lucky am I?
On my last morning there, the table in the lobby was loaded with pastries. As Phoenix and I headed for the dog patch, which happened to be where a group of homeless folks hung out, I loaded up what I could carry, stuffing coffee cups with croissants and Danishes to feed my new addiction.
I saw a few young men huddled in a group. I thought they were homeless, but I was afraid to go up to them directly and I didn’t want to be insulting.
So, I set the cups of croissants and coffees next to a light post, tried to make eye contact with one of the guys, pointed to the cups and then at him to convey my message.
I turned and headed back to my easy life.
I tried not to turn to look back to see if they’d gone for it and for the brief second I did I saw no movement. Eyes forward, I told myself.
Even if that guy didn’t grab it, whoever was meant to find it would.
No, it wasn’t as fun as the face-to-face light show, but I felt good.
I felt good, doing something little. Of course, the problem is bigger than me, breakfast, or a cup of coffee.
I was on vacation. I’d get in my car, travel on, and head home to my comfortable life with a soft bed and warm coffee to greet my mornings.
But, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that toothless smile.