"He came out to San Diego to work on a
fishing boat, but had a stroke instead."
He was sitting on a cement half wall by the harbor. I sat next to him and drew out his story. He'd been in San Diego for 41 days and most of it was spent in the hospital following a stroke. He used his fingers to count the days. He had come from North Carolina where he'd worked in the timber industry, but after some timber contracts weren't renewed, he lost his job. He also had been a cook for many years. He'd been homeless for about 4 years and later in the conversation he made it clear that he was NOT an alcoholic nor a drinker at all and didn't use drugs.
He came out to San Diego to work on a fishing boat, but had a stroke instead. The job was filled when he got out of the hospital. He told me where he makes his bed at night and how he uses a tarp and blanket. He said he can deal with the cold, but it was the hunger that was really hard.
People will occasionally give him food, but it often comes with strings. He explained that without teeth, eating was hard for him. Recently, some chips left his gums bloody, yet he said if he turns down what people offer him they chastise him. They snidely remark, "You must not be that hungry!" (Snidely is my word. It describes what he was trying to say.) He guessed they figure someone hungry should have no choice. Another story had him recently eating very spicy food (a gift) that made him sick because his stomach can't take it. He ate it because he felt obligated but decided he'd never do that again. He'd rather go hungry than eat something that made his stomach hurt worse than it already did.
Then he added that the other reason it was hard to eat was that after his stroke the doctors diagnosed him with prostate cancer. He didn't seem to understand the impact of his illness only that it answered why he was losing weight. Oddly, he wasn't upset. He was matter of fact like someone responding to a parking ticket. He wasn't getting treatment for it. He had no money. He just shrugged. He often said, "God will provide for me."
He proudly talked about being Cheyenne and how his grandmother was at the Sand Creek massacre. About living on the streets he said, "I don't make friends with the others," he said. "They stab me in the back and want money for booze."
People don't look him in the eyes and few ever talk to him, but he doesn't judge them for it. I normally don't carry cash, and seldom give homeless money anymore, but this guy was different.
I dug out a $5 bill and 4 one dollar bills. I knew that he would buy a meal with it - something he could eat and would like. It was money that would make a difference. It didn't have to be money that would be a solution -- just $ that would make a difference was enough. I'd never looked at it quite that way before. The whole experience showed me a side to the homeless I'd not understood or encountered before. I've met homeless who want to be homeless and actually enjoy the culture of living on the street. Others are running scams or are some kind of addict or mentally ill. This man, for whatever series of events in his life that led him there, was different. Maybe a lot of others are different too. Hmmm..
The interesting and uplifting thing was how he was dealing with everything. He had no bitterness. He was full of God and faith. His tone, even when mentioning the hardship and how people treated him badly, was not touched with resentment. There was forgiveness in his voice. Real forgiveness. He kept saying he was okay and it wasn't all bad. He wasn't out to hurt anyone. He wasn't angry or self absorbed. He was out there with his sign asking for money for food because he saw no other way and yet he was full of forgiveness about his situation and about the people around him who were not going to help. Even when I handed him the little bit of money, he looked me in the eyes and asked, "Don't you need that?" I replied, "Not as much as you do." Only then did he reach for it. His body visibly seemed to relax. I could see relief come over him because he knew he was going to eat that day. He had missed getting a meal the day before.
As I left him, he thanked me for talking to him. He was also grateful for the money. I was left having learned about a life in someone else's shoes - someone I could have easily walked past without ever knowing. I felt grateful for the lessons and the experience.