As if life isn’t hard enough for my friend Kevin who lives on the street, today I learned that his cancer has spread to his lungs. Last Sunday we met in the parking lot where we meet each week with about 250 of our other friends, and as always he was cheerful and jubilant. Excited about life.
Kevin and some others, like Jerry and Wayne simply amaze me. In some of my most reflective moments they’ve placed a hand on my shoulder, and given me words to light up my day. Words of inspiration and hope, words better than any motivational speaker could offer. On the street, I’ve met so many motivational speakers who don’t even know how inspiring they are. Their words are gifts that breath life. Some are lawyers, architects, men with business degrees who have fallen on hard times. Sometimes the hard time is just temporary.
Today Kevin was deflated, resigned. But still he had hope.
I’ll think of him tonight when I’m snuggled in my bed and he’s sleeping on the concrete floor of the shelter or under an overpass. We embraced, and I told him I’d pray. On the way out, I said goodbye to my friends, and knew that there were some I would not see the next time. Life on the street is unpredictable.
But life for those of us with roofs over our heads is also unpredictable. In The Compass, I created a character named Solomon, a young street boy with an old soul. He reminds me of the homeless adults. Wise beyond his years, smarter in some ways about the real meaning of life, than even the wealthiest person I know. When you have nothing, who you are is everything. Love, character, giving, heart, soul. When everything is stripped away, the only thing that matters is who you are. And sometimes who you are changes with each year, as you evolve into someone new. My character talks about how we are so focused on the work we do, how we define people by their jobs, instead of who they are inside.
As we left today, I slid into my car, and a police officer pulled up and stormed out, baton in hand. He strode quickly to my friend, and older man with a cane, and barked at him. “Move it!” he said angrily. I wondered if my friend had been a puppy, if the officer would have picked him up and taken him from the cold. How could he not know the beauty and gifts available inside these humans? How could he not see, how the people on the streets are just people.
He continued on, chasing them down the sidewalk, wherever they paused, waving his baton and barking orders for them to get off.
“Excuse me,” I said, approaching. I extended my hand to shake his.
He looked at my worn jeans, black boots and ski cap.
“What?” he said, eying me with disgust.
“I’m not homeless,” I said. I don’t know why I said it.
The officer shook my hand quickly and pulled away.
“What do you want?” he asked.
Tears welled up in my throat.
“Do you have a question?” he asked.
“These people are my friends… could you be nice?” It was a simple request.
“I have a job to do.” he said, dismissing me.
I drove back to the other side of town, and thought about his words. If that was the kind of man who had a job, I’d rather spend time with the ones who don’t.