I am in Starbucks. I am sitting on my own. It is relatively busy. There are no fully free tables. A homeless man came in a while ago. He got his coffee and sat at the same table as me. Almost instantly I noticed the smell that most homeless people carry. I could have put a look of disgust on my face. I could have moved. Is it really so bad that I can’t sit here for 30 minutes? It is that difficult for me to remain in my seat? Am I so shallow that I think it’s okay to make him feel like a pariah? More of a pariah? I can only presume that many, many times a day he’s made to feel like one. Maybe by now he is immune to the stares, the faces of repulsion, and possibly even the downright mean words. Maybe he will never be immune. I don’t think I would be. And so I’ll stay.
He has fallen asleep now. I can hear his quiet snores. I can look at him more closely. See his bright red face, maybe from alcohol, maybe weather-worn. His swollen hands indicating his harsh life. And who the fuck am I to judge? Events I will never know about have brought him to where he is now. Sitting in Starbucks, beside me, minding his own business. No matter what those events were, it is extremely unlikely that this was his life plan. Whether he is ‘to blame’ for them or not, here he is. Honestly I want to hug him. To express empathy. To speak over a cup of coffee. I can’t help but wonder when the last time he had a conversation with someone for the sake of having a conversation. Does his isolated life bother him? Is he craving human interaction?
He continues to snore…
I hope his dreams are far, far away from his brutal life. I hope he gets thirty minutes, an hour, of the life he may have had. An escape in sleep.
I can’t help but wonder am I typing these words to ‘prove’ I am a good person. To relieve myself of any guilt or shame I feel for his predicament, and that of the hundreds or thousands of homeless in Chicago. The realization that I have no idea how many homeless there are hits me like a brick. It is wrong somehow.
Next time a homeless person crosses your path, please look them in the eye. Give them a gentle smile. A nod. If they sit beside you, no matter how repulsive the smell is to you, try to remember you will be walking away soon. The homeless person will not. Remember as you sit in your living room, relaxing, in the comfortable warmth, that he is on the streets in freezing January. As this weekend’s high temperatures are predicated to be as bad as 17F on Sunday. I do not know what the wind chill is forecast to be, but those of us in Chicago know well it will be much lower than 17F. Homeless people will die this weekend. It happens ever year. Are you going to begrudge my homeless neighbor his cup of coffee and a doze inside a cozy Starbucks?