I spend a good amount of time walking. Always have. I enjoy it so much that I park pretty far from my destinations to give myself a chance to take in extra scenery, not to be confused with someone who does it for health reasons. It was sticky hot outside, like being wrapped in a dense film of dirt and sweat inside of the world’s largest sauna. Despite the stifling air conditions, it was beautiful outside and seemed like the other pedestrians agreed, definitely too nice out to stay inside. The city had a rhythm today (which I may have imagined since my headphones had broken the night before and I was now thrown into a world I hadn’t listened to in so long the sounds were all unfamiliar) and I seemed to have fallen into lock step with it. Those feelings never last.
It wasn’t anything unusual to see someone dressed in the latest Kanye-inspired burlap sack and an out of season winter jacket with a hand-scrawled cardboard sign offering blessings from God, but he was unusual anyway. Maybe it was the way he seemed unfazed by the scowling people passing him, or the machinery of the day that carried on without him and had for most likely years. His sign was modest “anything helps, thank you, God bless.” His demeanor was even more humble, a simple “hello, how are you?” to each passerby. Ok, I’m biting…
“I’m doing ok. I don’t have much money, how much do you need?”
“As much as you can spare without developing buyer’s remorse.”
“Buyer’s remorse? I’m sorry, you’re selling something?”
“Nope. Buyer’s remorse over your investment in another human being.”
I emptied my wallet. Forty dollars wasn’t a lot of money, but it was an angle I hadn’t heard before. Broken down cars, abusive lovers, just a place to crash, beer to drink…I had heard all of these and more but he seemed to have known exactly the path to my cash.
As he thanked me I sat down and started up a conversation. How did you get here? Where are you going? Where is your family? Where is your home?
He said “I got here by my own hands though it wasn’t planned. My family is gone, so is my home.”
I asked him to tell me more and he did. As I listened I analyzed every syllable waiting for the moment that made him different from me. That moment that explained how he could be destitute and I was still keeping my head above water. His story meandered through triumph and tragedy, personal victories and shameful mistakes. When he finished talking and I finished my interrogation I found endless similarities between us, and yet that difference that put him but kept me from this position eluded me.
Maybe there’s no reason it’s him and not me.
Best $40 I’ve ever spent.