I think that life affords us these opportunities in disguise as trials. We’re so stuck sitting up in front of the TV that anything else allows us discomfort. Here I am sitting, draining about my problems. Work, relationships, school, life… And up walks this homeless lady, with her plastic bag of cans and a sign. Automatically I am taken aback. I want to pull my backpack a little closer and I even contemplate walking away. I don’t because it’s too obvious, and I care enough about people that I don’t know, not to make her feel bad.
I look up as she moves coolly across the parking lot to receive a whole cigarette. I scoff, “Is that what you’re worried about?” My prejudice and I… That thought is followed by, “Maybe she would do the same for food. Maybe she’s taking anything she can get.”
I think about the dance my sister performed that told the story of how the public makes the homeless population invisible. As she returns to the bench with her retrieval, I wonder if she’s the stereotypical “territorial” homeless person, who doesn’t like people touching their things. “Have I invaded her bench?” Then I realize I’m being prejudice again –labeling people and putting them into categories.
We have minimal eye contact, but I can tell she’s troubled. And by the phone conversation that I’m having with my co-worker about a CPS case, she can tell I’m troubled too. Her random chuckle drew my eyes up to her and she moved me out of her peripheral vision. I wonder does she need someone to talk to? Or am I pre-judging that a homeless person doesn’t have conversation?
I continue my work on my laptop, as I wait for my ex to pull up and make up with me. She doesn’t. My phone runs dead and my tummy rumbles.
The lady with curly, shoulder-length hair picks up her plastic bag and leaves, but not before apologizing for bothering me. Being the people-pleaser that I am, I mechanically reply, “ Oh no, it’s okay.” But what did I just communicate? That I didn’t mind her bothering me, or that she wasn’t bothering me?
That’s when I reach my epiphany.
This is a public table; she has just as much right as anyone else to sit here –homeless or not. Who beat it into her head that she didn’t have that privilege?
My tummy rumbles again, and then I feel bad because who knows when’s the last time that she ate? I could be just like her. She’s young, white and half-decent looking for a homeless person. I bet she came from a well brought up family, with some issues that led her down the wrong path. A path that led two totally different people, like she and I, to the same place at the same point in time. Sitting here right now. How easy would it be for us to get our paths crossed and we end up in each other’s place?
I think about how everything hangs in the balance for me right now. Work, relationships, school, life…. and she has nowhere to go but up. We’re not so different. And it doesn’t take much for us to switch places.