Friday, September 23, 2016

Everybody’s Got A Story

Late Wednesday afternoon as I pulled up to a red light, I noticed a young man holding up a sign asking for donations. It went something like this: “Please help. I will take anything.” He was going from car to car showing his sign, barely making eye contact, his head down, his shoulders slumped as if they were carrying the weight of the world, his clothing dirty and faded, his eyes haunted.

He looked to be somewhere around my own children’s ages (19 and 24) and at the same time around 100. As if life had beaten him down so much that it had aged his very soul. I’ve never seen a sadder sight in my life. I’ve never encountered such a level of despair and helplessness in a person so young, someone that under other circumstances could have been a friend of either of my daughters; going to school with them, working with them, hanging out with them. It pierced my heart.


Living on the street under the constant threat of illness, exploitation, drugs and violence is no picnic. No one is born wanting this. Most youth are there because they have nowhere else to go. And I wondered what had transpired in his life that led to this. Was he a runaway? Was he suffering from a mental illness? Was there abuse in his home (a primary reason youth end up on the streets)? Was he dealing with a drug and/or alcohol addiction (self-medicating to cope with abuse, neglect, stress, traumatic experiences)? What was he eating? Where was he sleeping? Was he lost and confused and afraid? Was there anyone that worried about him? Missed him? Loved him? Where was his family? His parents? These and a thousand other questions went through my mind.

I was heading home with a car full of groceries that I’d stopped to pick up after I finished my hospice volunteer shift that afternoon. I was wondering what the most amazing man in the world and I would have for dinner. What movie we’d watch later that night. I was listening to music, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel and singing along. I was thinking that I should call my mom later that evening and text my brother to say hi. I was wondering what my older daughter was up to and wondering how the younger one was doing in her new job, her first couple of weeks of school. And then I saw this young man, this broken spirit, and the contrast between our lives and his could not have been more striking.


By the time I retrieved some money to give him, he was too far back, the traffic light had changed to green and I had no choice but to move forward. But I couldn’t go home. I circled through the neighbourhood and turned back to where he was, hoping for an opportunity to give him something and say a few words. Thankfully, the timing was right and I rolled down my window, waving to him. He ran over and I handed him a few dollars. “Please take care of yourself” I said. His eyes lit up as he smiled and said “thank you so much thank you so much thank you so much”. For a few seconds he stood up straighter and about 80 years seemed to melt right off his face. I could suddenly see the young man he was meant to be, hope struggling to stay alive inside him, a tiny flicker of light in the darkness that has swallowed him up.

This incident has haunted me ever since. Everybody’s got a story and there is no doubt that he has a very heartbreaking one.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. And count your blessings.

38 comments:

  1. So true, Martha, everyone has a story. They saw there's a big percentage of people who are one paycheck away from being homeless, people living that tightly these days. A few years back when we lived in San Diego, I would go walking around a park. There were at times homeless people sleeping at the park. They never bothered me, I never bothered them. There were 2 young men there for many a day in a row and my heart just went out to them. I talked with them one day and offered to bring them some food. They were proud, saying they were doing okay, had jobs, just not enough to get a place to live, but I knew they needed help. Brought them some things for a few days, but then sadly the neighbors around the park didn't like the homeless there so the police were on patrol to "kick" them out and I never saw those two again. Broke my heart because indeed everyone has a story.

    I'm glad you went back and helped him, I would have done the same. I hope he is able to find some type of help to be able to get off the streets, so young to be subjected to such conditions.

    indeed count our blessings!

    betty

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    1. That is wonderful, Betty. I'm not surprised because you strike me as a wonderful, gentle soul. No judgment, no criticism. We don't know the stories behind these people and it's easy to say that they should pick themselves up or fix up their lives. It's not as simple as that for most of them. My only regret with this young man was that I didn't go back with some food. I should've stopped somewhere, picked up some dinner and brought it back. I hope others were kind and I truly hope his life improves.

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  2. Beautiful post, though such a sad situation Martha. Glad you went back to help him.
    Kindnesses are never forgotten.

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  3. Martha, thank you for not questioning what he would do with the money that you so generously offered to him, after you searched for him. Whether it was for food or not, you did what you could to help a fellow human being...someone who could have been the age of my eighteen year old grandson.
    For a moment he smiled. He thanked you and you both went your separate ways. The tears are still falling from eyes and from my heart. It is a cruel world we live in...an act of kindness with no strings attached is rare...but thankfully they happen.
    I did a similar thing once myself. I was told by a stranger that was passing by that the person I gave a few dollars to probably had more money than both of us. I smiled at him and said, "well he could be or maybe now he could have a bite to eat, that I wasn't willing to take that chance."

    Sad but lovely post 💗

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    1. Jan, this is one of the best things I learned from my mother. I should actually write a post about this because I was raised by such an incredible woman, one of the most charitable I've ever known in my life. Anyhow, my mother always said that you should not question when you perform an act of kindness; just do it from the heart. And if the person you have been kind to has lied or misled you, it is their misdeed not yours. Despite being poor growing up, my mother was generous to a fault. I have so many memories of her kindness. These experiences in my childhood are perhaps some of the most important.

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  4. you have almost moved me to tears, I am so sorry for these kids, good for you Martha!

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    1. I am sorry for them, too, Christine. Their lives are hard, starting from their homes.

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  5. What a poignant post, Martha! There are many homeless people here in Victoria, and it is heartbreaking. I often think, "There but for the grace of God ..." But that tends to make me angry, because I don't understand how a loving and merciful God would grace me over another. Have a good weekend!

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    1. I would love nothing more than poverty and homelessness to be eliminated. No one should live this way.

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  6. While some people have more money than they know what to do with.
    It's not fair, very sad.

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  7. "Please take of yourself", oh Martha, I am glad you circled around and gave him some money but your kindness must have meant even more to him!

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    1. It is difficult to see someone that age in such a horrible situation. I immediately thought of my own children. He could have been a friend of theirs. It is terribly sad.

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  8. Too many people fall between the cracks. There should be more support available. If you mess up after assistance, it's your responsibility.

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    1. They do fall between the cracks, especially the young ones. Even our foster care system is a mess and a lot of kids age out no better than they started. It's a very sad situation.

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  9. What a post - and homelessness affects more and more around the world.

    Just locally we have a wonderful community who provide a soup run each week, it includes clothes and blankets too for those who do not have a permanent home, in fact for many their home is so often the street.

    Each of us can do a little something to help, and I think you did so well to go back and find this young person.

    Take care

    All the best Jan

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    1. You are so right, Jan! Each of us can do a little something to help. Every little bit makes a difference!

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  10. Homelessness is one of the issues that make me feel so helpless. It shouldn't be happening in Canada. And yet, it does. We have money for big business and sports stadiums but we can't give a bed to the most vulnerable in society. I don't know what the answer is. I just know what we are doing right now isn't working.

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    1. I totally agree. We should - must - do better! It's shameful.

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  11. Wow, Martha. You wrote that well. Very well indeed.

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  12. such incidents deliver great pain to one's soul ,for years i beard it felt my self guilty even having bite of food ,sleeping on comfortable bed and receiving love from my loved ones ,it was a pain that made me write and cry i cried like my heart will burst out of my chest and wrote like psycho in my native language ,.today i am little calm because my hubby put great effort to make me this his verbal struggle and gifts of many related books reduced my pain ,now i feel the pain of others but don't cry just pray for their relief with wet eyes and combined hands ,thank you for beautiful post dear

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    1. You are a very sensitive soul, Baili, and it makes it hard to live in this oftentimes difficult and pain-filled world. We do the best we can, help as much as we can and hope as much as we can.

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  13. Very well written indeed! I didn't cry outright but a mixture of happy/sad tears came up for me and I very much appreciate this post, thank you Martha <3

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    1. Thanks you, Hannah. It was a very sad encounter. It's hard not to feel that way when I have children around the same age.

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  14. We have too many fakers in my city. They either pretend to be homeless or in some dire emergency. And they are always in the same shopping centers.

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    1. You do what you feel is right, Adam. That's all any of us can do.

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  15. Martha, this post really resonates with me.
    Halifax is like most other Canadian cities and has quite a few 'homeless' people.
    Whenever I am walking downtown and have money with me, I will stop in front of the person and ask how they are doing. Sometimes they are surprised that I ask them a question.
    Most are very receptive to answering me and we begin a short conversation about how good or bad the day has been to them so far.
    If they don't want to answer and talk that is OK too. I give them cash regardless.
    I have absolutely no intention of judging/wondering what they are about to do with the money. It is not my business.
    I see it as making someone else's day a little brighter and maybe it will give them some hope that the world is not all bad and everyone doesn't hate them.
    You may have helped 'turn' this fellow around, Martha! You never know.....

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    1. I love that you do this, Jim, especially the way you don't judge or wonder. Just do it. You have a good soul. I imagine you make the day for many, but I would also wager a fair guess that they make yours, too. By meeting with others this way, we learn about the world around us, which in turn opens up our minds...and our hearts!

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  16. I hope they will be okay and Kudos to you for that kindness and for writing this.

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  17. This is a great lost. It breaks my heart to see homeless but at the same time I feel like a lot of them could better themselves. Its hard to tell the fakers from the real ones but who am I to judge.
    I have had panhandlers snarl me because I would not give them money but they have no idea I was probably more broke at the time than they were. Neither do they remember I just gave them mo ey for a bus ticket two days ago!
    I cant help to think they are someones child or someones parent but where I live, there is free help, shelter, food and churches on every corner they could turn to.
    You are a very kind person and you did excactly what God would have wanted you to do at that moment.
    Lisa

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    1. This young man made me think of my own children. I wonder if he has anyone that truly loves him. It is very heartbreaking.

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  18. Homelessness is not a choice. And nobody is happy without a home.
    and I am thankful to have a place to call home.

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    1. That's right. Homelessness is not a choice. Nobody wants that.

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