I know some of the local area homeless. A good number of them, in fact. Because there are so many however, it’s difficult to know all of them.
Today I met a homeless gentleman I’ve never met before.
I spotted him sitting by himself. Just him and all of his worldly possessions. On top of his backpack was a plastic supermarket bag. He had a small "Kaiser Roll" in his hands and was in the process of making himself a sandwich. Just the bread and a couple slices of lunch meat. On the ground beside him was a bottle of soda.
Because I had never seen him before, and because I do have a strong sense of curiosity I walked over to where he was sitting. So that he wouldn’t have to look up at me, I half squatted and half knelt just a little to his left.
After introducing myself to him, I asked him about himself. But, to be quite honest, I was curious about his sandwich: just bread and lunch meat. No mayonnaise. No mustard. Nothing.
He told me that he had found on job posted on Craig’s List in another part of the state. He had sent an e-mail and then a subsequent phone call. The position was still open and they would hold the job for him providing he could get there ASAP. He was genuinely excited. IN fact, he was heading there today.
He had already purchased his Greyhound ticket – which he proudly produced from his backpack to show me. He had bought three Kaiser Rolls and a package of lunch meat. He had planned to make one sandwich to eat before he left and then the other two were to take with him on the ride. Because he didn’t want to arrive there completely broke, he had decided not to buy any condiments – or anything else for that matter – to put on the sandwiches.
As we kept talking, the sandwich remained uneaten in his hand.
After about 10 minutes, he looked at me and asked if I was hungry. Even as he was telling me to make myself a sandwich, he had already placed his sandwich on his knee, picked up the plastic bag and the bread and was offering them to me.
For a moment I felt just a bit awkward.
He had deliberately foregone buying something to put on his sandwiches so that he would have money in his pocket when he arrived at his destination. He had bought a couple of extra rolls so that he would have to eat on his trip. Yet, here he was offering to feed me.
Quite honestly I didn’t know what to do. Actually I was hungry. I was on my way to lunch when I had spotted him. But I didn’t know if I should accept his offer or if he might feel offended if I didn’t. Not knowing what else to do, I stalled for time.
I pointed out that since there weren’t any condiments I’d need to go into the supermarket and get something to drink. After eating a "dry" sandwich does make one thirsty. With that, he burst out laughing.
Still laughing, he stood up and began reaching into his pocket. It took me a few moments to figure out what he was doing until he pulled out some change. It was then that I realized that he was going to pay for my soda!
When I told him that he didn’t have to pay for my soda, he asked if I was sure.
Just before I headed into the store, I asked him what other things he usually put on his sandwiches. I told him that I’d pick them up so that we wouldn’t have to eat the sandwiches completely dry.
When I returned he was still sitting there with his uneaten sandwich. He had waited for me to get back. He admitted that he was hungry, but that he had decided to wait because he didn’t want to appear to be rude.
I’d bought enough of everything so that after we’d had eaten he would still have plenty for his trip. So there we were: sitting on the ground with our backs against the wall; eating and talking.
A couple sandwiches each and 45 minutes of conversation later I had to leave. I had other commitments I had to keep. He also had commitments. He had a Greyhound bus to catch.
After he had hoisted his pack onto his shoulders and picked up the bag with the food we shook hands. I wished him luck. I reached into my back pocket and took out the money I had placed there while I was in the supermarket. When he saw the bills, he shook his head and said that it was okay; I didn’t have to give him anything. When I insisted that he accept the money he took it and thanked me.
He looked down at the ground for a few moments and then said something that caught me by surprise. He thanked me again, but this time it was for taking the time to sit and talk with him. His exact words were,
"It was nice to have someone to talk to. You know… a regular person."
Then it occurred to me what had happened. He had seen me as a "regular" person and himself as a homeless person. Throughout the entire conversation, it had never come up that I knew what it was like to have experienced homelessness. In fact, the topic of homelessness had never come up at all.
We had talked about the job that was waiting for him. We had spoken about things we’d done as children. Where we had grown up. People we had met. Dreams. Hopes. But, homelessness didn’t enter into the conversation. We were just two men who had had a conversation over lunch.
What amazes me about the lunch I had today, is that it had been offered to me by someone who had little or nothing. He didn’t have a surplus of food. Yet, he was willing to offer what little he did have. To me, that is the true hallmark of a good heart.
It was one of the best lunches I’ve had in a long time. And, all because of a man with a kind and generous heart who, as it happens, is currently homeless.