The last few weekends while I’ve been driving to my friend’s house on the East Side, there has been a homeless man at the light with a sign that reads, “Food. Clothes. God Bless.” He never asks for money, although if given, I’m sure he wouldn’t refuse it. He’s been there every Friday and Saturday night, passively standing there with his sign, life on the street reflecting in his eyes and apparent by his ragged beard. Lately the temperatures have been dropping below freezing and he’s barely had a sweatshirt on. I wanted so badly to give him a blanket or something, but have had nothing in my car. And being broke myself, I couldn’t exactly give him money. I remembered at home an old down jacket that I didn't wear anymore because of it's size, and I thought I should grab it the following weekend when I go to my friend’s. That was this weekend, and I finally remembered to grab the jacket.
About 10 minutes to the city, I started to feel really nervous. I thought it was because of the people that would be at the party, or the fact my friend is leaving and this may be the last time I hang out with him. As I got closer and closer, the nervousness was intensifying, I could feel it in my legs and my heart was racing and I realized it was because of this man on the street. I was shocked that I was feeling this way simply because of handing a jacket through my car window. I was even secretly hoping he wouldn’t be there; maybe he’d be at a different corner, another light. I was embarrassed that I was feeling this way, despite knowing it was from years of living in the city and reading daily reports of theft, robbery and assault. What was I thinking...that this man would grab the jacket then attack me? Even trying to give someone something they need creates feelings of anxiety and fear...what kind of world am I living in? Perhaps it is the daily reading of robberies, assaults, thefts. But I wanted to give him this jacket; he needed it more than I did. It was silly to feel this way, I know.
I pulled up to the light and there he was, his sign looking a little more worn than last week. I rolled down my window, thankful no one was behind me. He stepped towards my car and I said, “Sir, I have a jacket for you.” He looked me in the eyes and said, “Thank you, God Bless.” He put his jacket into his bag on the ground and smiled as I drove away. “Sir,” the address echoed in what felt like mockery shaped by culture, but in my eyes, deserving. We view the homeless as weak and failures. Perhaps many are. What we don’t see are those not asking for your pity or money for their next fix, but those just wanting to stay warm or full. Those that are out there in the freezing cold no matter what, because if they miss just one night, they might miss out on that jacket or blanket or warm meal someone wants to share. How many of us would go a night without shelter, our bed, or a promised meal? Not many. I know I wouldn’t. I don’t mean to glorify this, that is not my intention. But we do not know their lives. We do not know what they’ve gone through to get to this state; who are we to assume it’s because of giving up or not trying? I’d like to think that it’s not the case. But as I’ve lately been proved otherwise, perhaps I’m a bit naïve at times. You know what? I don’t mind…I’ll stay naïve it if means believing the good in people. I don’t see that as such a bad thing…until I’m proved otherwise. Or, apparently, until I decide to move to NYC.
What was ironic was the fact that I planned on bringing him this down jacket for a couple of weeks now, and when I pulled up to him, he had a big puffy down jacket on. Go figure.