A few years ago, I found out that one of my high school loves had been homeless for a period of time. This is a guy who grew up in a wealthy suburb outside of Philadelphia known as “the Main Line.” The Main Line is an area where successful doctors, lawyers, and business owners reside. It’s full of stone mansions hidden behind metal gates with long driveways leading to a staffed front door.
My friend, John, did not have this kind of home but he was definitely upper middle class. His dad is a rocket scientist and his mother was a psychiatrist (she passed away a few years ago after a bout with cancer). His brother is a professor, I believe, so the family is smart. They’re well grounded, well respected, and don’t cause any trouble.
And then there’s John. John is the proverbial black sheep of the family. John struggles with alcoholism so it is his disease that led him to being homeless. Fortunately he lived in Hawaii at the time of his homelessness, so I think living outdoors is probably tolerable there, unlike Philadelphia. Hawaii’s average daytime winter temperature is 78 degrees whereas Philadelphia’s is more like 40. Brrrr…..
After finding out that John was homeless for a period of a year or two, it brought the issue of homelessness to the forefront of my brain. No longer were homeless people “just” a segment of the population to “deal with,” suddenly I saw them for who they are: somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, uncle, father, husband, ex-husband, co-worker, and friend. I was heartbroken to know that John, a former love of mine, was homeless.
Because of John, I keep $5 in my cup holder to hand to the guy who waits patiently at the light at the corner near my home. He has a sign but I never read it because it doesn’t matter what it says–he needs help. He’s humbling himself in front of the commuters while they idle in their cars with their minds on what’s for dinner, wondering when’s their next manicure appointment, what should they wear to a party later that day, and so many other trivial things while the homeless man wonders where he will get his next meal and where he will sleep.
I hand the $5 to the guy every time I see him because he looks like somebody’s grandpa. John has taught me how to be less selfish as I sit idly thinking about trivial things at the traffic light. Although I wouldn’t wish alcoholism on anyone or any family, this is one of those silver linings one has to look for in the face of its devastating, life changing effects.
Today is John’s birthday. I’m going to think about him off and on all day long, and when I see that guy at the light today, I will pass along a little something extra in John’s honor.