It was cold and rainy, but it wasn’t too bad, really. I had just had breakfast with someone I love at one of my favorite diners, so I was feeling good when I stepped outside.
I saw him sitting there, backpack on the ground beside him, smoking something, parka hood pulled up over his head. The usual indicators.
I said good-bye to my two-eggs-over-easy friend and walked over to backpack man. It went like this:
Me: Hi. My name is Melissa. Then I reached out my hand and he reached out his and we shook hands.
Him: Hi. I’m Dan.
Me: I just wanted to stop and say hi.
Him: That’s so nice. No one ever does that.
Me: I know, that’s why I do it. Are you from here?
Him: No I’m just passing through. I was staying up north for a while, and I’ve been staying here in one of the shelters, but lots of the people in those places are either drinking or drugging and I don’t do either of those things, so I don’t like it there much.
Me: What’s the shelter situation like in this town? Are there good resources for people on the streets?
He: You’d be surprised, not really. People come up here from Park Avenue and they stay in their apartments … but they really don’t care about taking care of people who need help here. You know where Stewart’s is? There’s a man and a woman who’ve been living on the bench there for about five months. No one helps them. She’s sick and he’s really heavy and they have nowhere to go. You should go over and see them.
Me: Hm. I wonder why it’s like that here. I’m surprised. Are you staying here for the winter?
Him: No, I’m going where it’s warmer.
The thing about this man, Dan, is that he had a shiny face, like radiant. And bright eyes and he looked right at me when he spoke. He wasn’t twitchy or uncomfortable talking to me. He seemed snug in his warm parka. He was smoking a cigarette-like thing, but not with any great intention. He was kind and respectful and interesting. And I didn’t ask him if he needed help or offer any money. Still, he said this: I’m fine. I have a few hundred dollars coming in from Social Security soon. I’ll be fine. If you want to give a few dollars to someone, go over to Stewart’s and help the couple living there.
He was not being belligerent or ungrateful or trying to get rid of me. He was worried about those two other people.
I just want to make sure you understand what I’m saying.
This man, Dan, was homeless. Living on the streets at a time when it’s getting colder. He had a small backpack. And he was anticipating the arrival of a few hundred dollars, but that’s it, that’s all he had. In the whole world. No home, no car, no cell phone, no thing. No plan, no company, no food that I could see. And yet he was more concerned for the two people on the bench around the corner than he was for himself. He preempted any offer I may have made to help him by suggesting I help two other people.
A few hundred dollars was all he needed. Most likely because his heart is made of pure gold. Dan is rich in ways not valued in this world. Homeless and alone, he is already so far down the ladder that most people would consider him to have bottomed out. And yet, he held a kind of compassion and altruism foreign to most of us. You don’t need to help me, he was effectively telling me, help someone who is really in need.
Would you do me a favor? Would you think about this story? I mean, really think about it. And then maybe, please maybe, try to be a little more like him, Dan, the homeless man.
Thank you and amen.