I’ve noticed that over that last few months my posts have been a little "darker" than perhaps I would like them to be. Unfortunately, homelessness is a dark topic. I’m certain it’s not a topic which is talked about around the dinner table in most homes. Homelessness is nonetheless an actual reality for 3 million plus of our fellow citizens.
Last June, I wrote a post called, Questions.
At the time I wrote that post, I was living in a weather beaten tent hidden in a vacant, muddy field. In some ways it seems like a million years ago – and yet, in other ways it seems like just yesterday.
Toward the end of the post I wrote:
I don’t want to work my way out of homelessness and then for the rest of my life be saddle with the reality that I once was homeless – that because of my present station in life that I could never truly be a part of society once again.
I would hate to think of myself as sitting in a restaurant one day and have some wife point out to her husband: "Look George, there’s that homeless man we used to see panhandling on the corner."
I dislike the idea of forever being thought of as "that homeless man" or "the man who used to be homeless."
It’s bad enough feeling cut of from society because of my present homelessness, but it would be worse to be cut off from society simply because once upon a time I had been homeless. It would be terrible to never feel as though I truly belong.
When it wrote those words, I was looking ahead with the hopes of a day when I’d have a roof over my head – like I do now – and had wondered how the rest of the community would view me. Would they still see me as someone who had been homeless? Or would they be able to accept me for myself, without the stigmas of homelessness still clinging to me like a cobweb.
One of the very last things I wrote in that post were the words,
I don’t know what it will be like once I’m no longer homeless, or how the majority of people will treat me. I’m sure that I’ll find out in due time.
I’m not sure why those thoughts occurred to me back then, but they did. And due time has passed. I now know the answers to the questions I had in my mind that morning.
I’ve met quite a number of folks – homeless and non-homeless – during the last three and a half years of my life. Some I met while still homeless. Some while I was "transitionally homeless" and, some after I managed to get a roof over my head. Some have become dear friends.
Yesterday I was speaking with one of my dearest friends. She and I met after I transitioned out of homelessness. She’d never known someone who had been homeless. To be sure, she knew about homelessness; had seen homeless people, but she’d never really known someone who’d experienced it personally.
Quite as a matter of fact, when I first told her that I had been homeless, her response had been something like, "I’ve never known anyone who was homeless before."
She asked a few questions about why and how I’d become homeless. Then the conversation moved onto to other things. It isn’t that she hadn’t empathized with what I’d gone through, nor did she dismiss my experience as though it were unimportant, or as though it hadn’t been a terrible thing. But, neither was it something that made me of any less value as a person in her eyes.
Although I’ve shared with her some of my experiences, I’ve tried not to over burden her with it – though I know that she would allow me to talk about it until the proverbial cows came home. She knows that homelessness is a part of my personal history. Yet, she has this wonderful ability to see me as Michael – and Michael only.
She doesn’t view me as Michael, the person who used to be homeless. She doesn’t treat me as though there obviously must’ve been something "not right" with Michael, or that Michael must’ve made a terribly wrong turn in life or else he would’ve never become homeless. Instead, she has been able to accept Michael in his totally – without focusing on just one aspect of who Michael is or what Michael has experienced. She strives to see me a whole person.
As I said a bit earlier, due time has passed and I know the answers to the questions I had in my mind that morning last June.
It is sad reality that many who I’ve met view me through eyes that still see the past. They have the tendency to still see the homelessness. And it precludes their ability to see Michael. I’m not saying that everyone I’ve met sees me that way, but the majority of them do. Perhaps it’s just human nature.
Then again, maybe it’s not all that important how many still see and equate me with the homelessness I once experienced. In due time, they may be able to get past it. Then again, perhaps not.
The one thing I know for a certainty is that there are those who have given me their friendship unconditionally. The homelessness I experienced may have been the most difficult time of my life, but it paved the way for us to meet; for us to become friends, and in the strangest manner became a blessing in disguise. Without that experience, I suspect that I would’ve never come to know those who have become the dearest to me. And my life would have been all the smaller.
And before I forget –
Thank you for letting me be Michael and thank you for letting me cry on your shoulder from time to time. Your presence in my life is a precious gift – one which I know is undeserved. Yet, one which I am so blessed to have.