Look At Me

Seattle has its share of homeless folks—just like in most cities. It’s a hard situation without easy solutions. Yet, every time I visit the land of Seahawks and Mariners, of skyscrapers and the Space Needle, I’ll walk right past the folks who have no home. What else can I do? How much will a couple bucks help?

I’ve tried the cluster approach, where I gather with a fast-moving group and we collectively ignore the beggar on the corner. It’s like a human shield protecting me from having to consider the dollar bills in my purse.

However, it was mid-morning and my fellow cluster must have already been at work. I walked alone with my cell phone in one hand and my handbag tucked close to my side.

I'm adept at pretending to be on an important call—appearing oblivious to the suffering on the sidewalk. So, not only am I ignoring a human need, I’m a liar as well. I'm ashamed to think how often I've done this.

A beggar was up ahead.

As I got closer I noticed his long overcoat, mismatched gloves and black stocking cap. He held a piece of cardboard—presumably a hand-lettered request for money. 

I’d missed my chance to cross the street and with no one close by I considered making a phantom cell phone call.

Then as I got closer I could read his sign and it changed everything. His black-lettered cardboard sign didn’t ask for money. 

            “Look, I'm a man not a monster

I read his sign and then looked into the eyes of a fellow human—a ragged, worn-out, most likely addicted, sorrowful man. Eye to eye. I started to hand him a couple bucks, but he shook his head, “No” nodding for me to continue on my way. I didn’t understand. This wasn’t about money?

I think I mumbled, “Take care.” As if he really could.

He was gone when I came back to that street corner later in the afternoon. But I couldn’t forget those moments of eye contact when I realized that we both had beating hearts and breathed the same air. Homeless didn’t mean heartless, or soulless, or counting less. 

We have a long ways to go to lessen this bleak kind of poverty. Choosing not to see it doesn’t make it go away. One homeless man’s sign helped improve my vision.

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