Sunday, February 02, 2014

Fly away home

Around the corner from where I live, there's a homeless man who sits in a wheelchair in front of the Starbucks. His names is Sean, and 13 months ago he lost both his legs due to diabetes. Seven days a week Sean travels all the way uptown from the shelter he lives in all the way down town. He sits in front of the Starbucks all day and all night, in the rain, the snow, and in the freezing cold.

I've always noticed that Sean doesn't hold out a cup or beg for money, nor does he ever complain about the weather. Tonight I asked him about that, and he told me he knew enough people from his years of panhandling in the area, that folks helped him out every day regardless. He also told me what was more important to him, was that this street was the only place he had any sense of community and of belonging. He said that oftentimes people don't give him anything at all but conversation and connection, and that this was his main motivation for traveling so far each day.

"They treat me like a human being up here," he said, "Like I'm just a regular human being."

And sure enough, as we were talking, many obviously well-to-do neighbors walked by and greeted Sean by name, and then just kept walking. And I could tell, regardless of his unimaginable circumstances, how at ease he felt. I could see how important it was to him to be greeted as a neighbor, to be known as a neighbor-not just as a man in tattered clothes, with broken teeth and no legs.

Any way, I could easily go deeper and ask the question, would any one of Sean's "neighbors," including myself, be willing to invite him into our lovely, warm apartments for lunch, and then experience the shame and guilt we would all certainly feel when sending him back to the shelter?

But I won't ask that, because all I was really focused on, humbled and awed by tonight, was how someone can suffer and endure so much for so long, and end up sitting outside on a cold, cold night, hungry, homeless, in wheelchair, and not be broken.

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