Do You Trust Homeless People?
A surprising experience walking downtown
Last night I had dinner with some friends in Downtown Dallas. I live close by in Uptown, I would have walked the 1.2 miles there to meet them, but I was running late, so I took an Uber because I hate looking for parking.
We finished around 1am and I had to decide, do I get an Uber home, or do I walk? It was a beautiful night, it is about a 30 minute walk, but not through the best area. The girl I was with says, “If you decide to walk home, try not to get raped.” I didn’t anticipate that happening, so I decided to walk.
After a few blocks, I am away from where any businesses are open, or anybody is around and I see 2 homeless men ahead of me. One man is sitting, one man is standing. The standing man sees me, and starts approaching me. He says, “Excuse me sir, I don’t mean to bother you, but would you mind talking to my friend? His mother just died and I’m worried he wants to kill himself.”
Right then, many things rushed through my mind. It was a lot to process. 1. This is an usual request, especially under these circumstances. 2. Does this make any sense? Why would this guy stop me? 3. Is this some sort of set up? It certainly looks and sounds like it. 4. What are my surroundings? I do not see any other people around any more, they are right next to an alley, both of these guys are bigger than I am…
As I am processing all that information, the standing man says, I overheard you talking to your lady friend earlier a few blocks away. I didn’t mean to listen in, but your voice is kind of loud (if you know me, now you absolutely know this whole story is true based on that one line alone… and it was the 2nd time I had been told that last night.) He went on, “The things you were saying were kind of motivational and my friend could really use that right now.”
I was waiting for “the pitch” or the ask… but it never came. The standing man introduced me to the sitting man who would not even lift his head, I think he was hiding his face because he was crying. Before you assume what I was initially wondering, neither man was drunk. The standing man goes on to tell me about the sitting man’s life, what he had been through, and what he was dealing with now. The standing man was trying to be positive, going on about how even though things were bad, you have to focus on the positive. The standing man then starts telling his story, how he does not have anything, how he just go out of prison, and he keeps telling the sitting man that he has to stop being sad, he has to stop being depressed, over and over he keeps saying the man can not be sad. Then he asks me what I think and if I agree.
I told the sitting man, “I don’t know what all you are dealing with or going through right now, but I think it is okay to be sad. Sometimes life is sad, sometimes life is hard, sometimes life hurts. It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be hurt, that’s part of life, we all experience that. Just don’t stay sad, just don’t stay hurt. I don’t know what the purpose of this life is, or why we are here. I have questioned that many times though out my life, at my lowest points, I have questioned why I am here, and if I wasn’t… would it matter? Would anybody care or notice if I was gone? Wouldn’t that be easier? The answer I came up with is, I don’t know. I don’t know what happens next, all I do know is, everything in this life is temporary. Every year that passes I realize how quickly they go and how few are left.
I found it is easy to see everything that is wrong with the world. It is easy to say there is no meaning, there is no point, but the only thing harder than believing there some meaning to the mess we live in is believing there is no meaning at all. I can not believe we are all here and this universe is one big accident. If it is not an accident, there must be a purpose. I do know know what the purpose is, I have settled on the belief (for now) that I most likely will not know during this life what the purpose of this life is. The only thing I think I know, or I believe is, we are here to learn something.”
I could see in the sitting man’s body language he had given up, I recognized it, because I remembered it from when I had been in a similar place. I remembered the single thought that helped me turn the corner. I told him about when I was homeless, I had felt something similar. I told him, “What I settled on was, if I chose to end my time here early, I cheated. I would be cheating the rules of this game, what ever this game is, but I would also be cheating myself out what ever other experiences life still had to offer. I felt even though I did not see any purpose or value at the time, I was certain we are supposed to learn something while we are here and the time we learn our greatest lessons is during our greatest challenges, struggles, and hardships. I started to view this world as a classroom and each hardship as a lesson. If I had harder lessons to learn than someone else, I had a opportunity to learn more than someone else. That was my time to learn. That was my time to grow.
I also started to realize as I planned my end, there was one last thing I wanted to do, then another one, then another one. As I started to plan my end, I realized I would have to wait at least a month, maybe two months. Then as I started adding to the list of things I needed to do, I realized… that was purpose. None of my “final list” was things to see or experience and at the time I had hardly seen or experienced anything, I was only 17 years old. I did not have the means to see or experience any of my “goals”.
My final list was a list of people I wanted to thank, people I wanted to spend time with, people I wanted to give something positive to remember me by. Then I realized it did not matter if I spend the next 6 months or 60 years doing that, the result would be the same. The end is the end, so I decided to see it all the way through, because I realized… Everything is temporary and the purpose I was seeking was my responsibility to create.”
I did not want to tell him all the things I have done since, or what an amazing life I have had, none of that mattered, all I said was, “I’m glad I decided to see it through. Hard times passed and amazing, truly blessed times followed, but.. more hard times have come again many times, and those have been my opportunities to learn, and to grow.”
I ended by saying, “Right now is an opportunity to learn and grow. You are very lucky you have your friend here (the standing man) watching out for you, he obviously cares about you. If you have nothing in this world but a friend sitting next to you, you have more than some of the wealthiest people alive.”
The standing man thanked me and asked if I would hold their hands and pray with them. I held their hands and the standing man said a prayer. It was beautiful, I almost started crying as the 3 of us stood, on the street, in downtown Dallas, at almost 2am… complete strangers having a pretty special, amazing moment together.
The standing man explained that he had a place to stay near by and he was trying to get the sitting man to go with him. The sitting man stood up, we all shook hands, then walked away into the night in opposite directions.
Then I walked the rest of the way home, reflecting on life, feeling grateful, and curious about what else life has in store. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to the voice that said, just keep walking, or cross the street so you don’t cross their path… They were in my path for a reason and maybe I was in theirs.
PS: That’s what I get for having a loud voice.
** Update: Since a lot of people have commented on this and shared it, I thought it would be a good idea to add some additional information.
Some people have asked me these questions since I posted this…
1. Did this really happen? — Yes.
2. Why would I stay in a potentially dangerous situation like that? — I have been all over the world, in some of the most dangerous cities on earth, in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods, and not only never felt unsafe, but have met some of the kindest, most wonderful people you could possibly imagine.
I don’t know if that means I am foolish, or if I have a guardian angel who has been working overtime for the last 38 years. Maybe both.
3. Do I think I made a difference? — I don’t know, but I hope so. I do know from my own person experience when I was 16–17 years old, the slightest gesture of kindness can mean more than you possibly know.
If someone is in that delicate place of dangerous contemplation, it is often due to a lack of hope, a lack of faith in anyone or anything good in this world. Sometimes it may take very little to change that perspective. I still remember a few seemingly little things people said or did at particularly low points in my life that made more of a difference than they could possibly have imagined.
> Here are some important and shocking facts.
1. Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10–24.
2. Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12–18.
3. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED !!!
4. Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 5,240 attempts by children grades 7–12.
5. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death of ALL ages in the United States.
6. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death of people ages 15–44 globally.
7. 38,000+ people die from suicide every year in the United States.
8. There is one death by suicide in the US every 13 minutes.
9. There is one death by suicide in the world every 40 seconds.
Last, but not least…
10. It is estimated, 80% -90% of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication. (TAPS study)
Pay Attention, Listen, Care.
It really isn’t that hard to make a difference, maybe even save somebody’s life.
Thank you to everybody who has read and shared this post.
PS: I originally published on 11/4/2016 at Facebook.com/TonyMichael
I had so much positive feedback, I thought I would share it here.