It’s no secret that I’m outspoken. I’ll pretty much tell you what’s on my mind without beating around the bush. If I think something is wrong, I’ll just come right out and say so. I don’t believe in false diplomacy. Never have. Never will. Anyone who knows me well will attest to that fact.
Today I witnessed something that made me extremely angry – and sad.
As I was getting ready to walk into a convenience store, there was a homeless gentleman who asked me if I had any spare change. Although I’ve seen him around town before, I’ve never really talked with him. Mostly when I have seen him, it has been while he was carrying garbage bags filled with aluminum cans to take to the recyclers. So, without giving it a second thought I reached into my pocket and fished out the change and handed it to him. No big thing.
When I stepped out this homeless gentleman was still there. This time however, he was standing there being yelled at by some woman. He wasn’t yelling back. He was just standing there letting her vent. He didn’t attempt to interrupt her. He just stood there.
At first I thought that he had done or said something improper to this woman, so I asked her if she was alright. As it turns out, she was angry because he had asked her if she had some "spare change" that she might be willing to let him have. Her attitude about being asked for spare change was "… how dare he ask her for money?"
I almost did a "mental" double take. Before I could however, she again started yelling at this man and calling him all manner of names and obscenities. Then it happened. She called him worthless. I couldn’t contain myself any longer and decided that I was going to put my two cents in.
I’ll admit that I’ve met a number of homeless who don’t want to do anything with their lives. They’re content to remain homeless. There are even a number of homeless I’ve met who have deliberately chosen to be homeless. So I understand how many people don’t want a homeless person anywhere near them.
I asked if she knew the man, which she said she didn’t. I then asked her how she knew he was "worthless." At that she turned her tirade on me. When I asked her why she was yelling at me, she said because I was defending "him."
At that point, she started telling me – still in an angry voice – that she had been homeless for half of her life, but that she’d "… gotten out of homelessness" and if she could do it then "anyone else can do it, too! All they have to do is get off their lazy a– and get a job."
Her saying that she had been homeless for half of her life threw me for a curve. If she had indeed been homeless for half of her life, then she more than anyone else should have known just how difficult it can be to get off of the streets. She should have also known that it takes some people longer than it does others. Most importantly, she should have been able to have some compassion on this gentleman. Yet, she was acting as though she were aristocracy.
And that’s when I got angry.
It’s been said of me that I have extremely expressive eyes. If I’m in a good mood you can see it. If I’m not feeling well – again, you can see it. And if I’m angry – well, there’s something in the way I’ll glare at you that says that it’s probably best if you just shut your mouth because you won’t like what I have to say.
This woman, who I’ve never met, must have read it in my eyes: yelling at me might not be a good idea. Unfortunately, it was too late. As far as I was concerned she had crossed the line.
I’m a bit ashamed to say that I was not gentle in my response. I was painfully blunt. AND I found myself telling her that if she said another abusive word to this man I would call the police and have her arrested.
She responded by saying that she had the right to say whatever she wanted to say to him. When I told her that "hate speech" wasn’t protected under the 1st Amendment, and that the way she was yelling and cussing at this man simply because he was homeless and had asked her for "spare change" could potentially be considered a "hate crime."
I pulled out my cell phone and said to her,
"So, what’s it going to be? But, let me tell you this. I’ve been a witness to what you’ve been saying to this man. And I’ll tell the police every last word – including all of the cuss words – you’ve said to him. Are you willing to go jail over this?"
She must’ve taken me seriously because she just turned and walked toward her car just as quickly as possible. But, not without shouting one last obscenity toward our direction.
As I went my way, I was disappointed with myself for having let my anger get that far out of hand. Yet, I didn’t regret anything I had said to her. At the same time I felt really sad.
This was a woman – who according to her own words – had at one time experienced homelessness. She was fortunate enough to find a way out. She had managed to become a part of the community again. And, that’s a good thing. Anytime any homeless person is able to leave life on the streets behind is a good day.
But it saddened me because this was a woman who should have been more understanding. Certainly she should have been able to be a bit more "forgiving" than a person who has never had to experience homelessness might be expected to. She should have been able to find it in her heart to at least remember that the person who had asked her for spare change was just that: a person.
What caused me the most distress however was the thought that this woman seemed to have traded being homeless in for being heartless.