What’s The Difference Between You and J?
January 6, 2013 24 Comments
As I hugged him, I could see he was crying. He kept saying, “Man, I’m so tired. I’m really just so tired…I just want to rest.”
All I could think of to say was, “I know. It’s ok. I know.”
But really, I’m lying. I have no idea.
And so do very few of the people passing us on either side, as they make their way to and fro within the Target parking lot. For a brief moment, I forget about them, and what they might be thinking, as I just let this man cry.
In an hour and a half, this 44-year old man I’ll call “J” shared his story with me. Of how little by little, he crept closer and closer to the streets, until finally he found himself living under a bridge in a nearby city.
Of how he once was on top of everything, but lost his job, then his house, and then his truck. He was able to make do for two years, but in July of last year found himself with nowhere else to go.
So he joined a group of about 30 other people who live under a bridge. Each in their own area. Each more or less sticking to themselves. Each with their own stories.
Earlier that afternoon, as I drove to Target near where we live, I intentionally sought to find someone to speak with. I see so many homeless people in our city.
Some look scary, some look crazy, and some look like me.
For some reason, I’ve been drawn to the homeless. Honestly, I think it is because I often wonder what it is that separates us — why is that I’m me, and here in the warmth of my house, and they’re them — living outside, fighting for what I take for granted?
What led them there? What’s to say it can’t happen to me?
What’s to say it can’t happen to you?
“Believe me bro, I never wanted this man. It’s embarrassing dude, having to ask people for money. I have this sh*tty sign that I made man, because I have to eat you know?”
I nodded, looking him in the eye, and a bit surprised by his direct eye contact. He unfolded his sign and showed it to me: “Homeless Please Help”
“What’s it like, standing out here?” I asked, wondering if he’d open up.
“It’s f*cking hard man. Sometimes I just turn away, like this, and I cry. I cry because I don’t like this. I cry because people won’t look at me man. They think, what, that I wanted this? That somehow I said one day, f*ck dude, I’m going to be homeless. No man, it’s not like that.”
I continued looking at him, wondering what’s it like to be him.
“You know what though? You know what I’m afraid of? I’m afraid that I’ll get used to this man. I see some people that are out here for years, you know? It gets to be a routine, each day. You sleep, you get up, you stand out here with this stupid sign, you make 10, 15 bucks, and then what? All you need is to eat and drink man, and that’s it. And you can do that for a few bucks. You get used to that sh*t man. But I don’t want to be like that man, I don’t want it.”
In the time I spent with J, I learned things I didn’t know about the homeless community. From J’s perspective:
- Many are embarrassed to have to ask you for money. Some aren’t, they’re used to it, but guys like J don’t like doing it.
- Trying to find a job is extremely difficult. Younger (more able) guys are able to find jobs, but if you have a physical ailment (J’s knee is screwed up), and you don’t have a phone or an address, it’s difficult. Without a job, it’s hard to pull yourself up.
- Sometimes, living on the streets becomes a routine. (Like being in Jail, J told me.) You get used to it. You start to adjust, and before you know it, you’ve been on the streets for years.
- Many believe in God. As J put it, he prays, almost constantly, asking his Creator for help and for an answer. J sometimes becomes so desperate, that he thinks it would be easier to kill himself – but he wouldn’t do it because he believes it will separate him from his maker. He believes in Heaven.
Earlier today, I ran into a friend who gave me the contact information for someone at the Orange County Rescue Mission. This organization is set up to help people like my friend J.
So I’m going to try and find J again.
But if I don’t find J, I’m going to continue looking for others like him. I see brothers and sisters on the street all the time, and most often, I drive right by. But inside, I’m torn up. I can’t stand it anymore.
I’m going to start doing something about it.