How many times have you walked passed them? Looked down to avoid eye contact, pretended they didn’t exist to reassure yourself of your safety? How many streets have you crossed or unnecessary phone calls have you made in an effort to convince them you were too busy or too important to approach. How many times have you rolled up your window or lied about not having any cash in your pocket? Or thrown a few coins in a hurried escape?
These shadows live in the street that we label - they have a story too, one we deafen ourselves to out of fear or disgust.
Have you ever stopped to think? Someone, once upon a time, held that shadow as a newborn baby that was perfect and small and innocent? Someone once laughed at their joke and they were responsible for a smile. Someone once held their hand too, cried on their shoulder and they offered comfort once. Someone once told them ‘I love you’ and heard it back in the voice we are ignorant enough to mute. They taught something once, they shared something once, and they did something important once. They have done, do and will do in the future the same thing “we” do - every day. They breathe air, they bleed blood and they cry tears. They eat food and drink water, love, regret, and hope just as the ambitious, well dressed, perfectly groomed person sitting at the corner cafe with a laptop, cell phone, newspaper and overpriced cup of coffee.
Why is it only the broken that hear their voices and seek their advice, stop and ask to hear their story or see the beauty in the sun damage and wrinkles of their dirty weathered faces ?
I once sat in judgment of them too. It wasn’t until I became one of them in temporary moment of hardship, that I saw passed the cliches and really looked. I saw the truth when I took those blinders down. The corporate sharks were more frightening than the school of battered spirits in the streets. The preacher at the pulpit had less faith than the man with worn out shoes standing in line of the soup kitchen that prayed simply for survival. They weren’t all junkies and drunks, some had never touched an intoxicant in their lives. And some were... desperate to find an oasis for a few pennies that they spent on a paper bag full of temporary relief. Not all of them were too “lazy” to get a job, but just didn’t have the confidence to or trust that an employer would see passed their filthy rags and give them a chance. How is the man in a suit that orders an expensive glass of scotch at the same expensive bar every day after their important job, more superior to the man who asks a stranger for a spare cigarette? How is the woman who sold her freedom for a wedding ring that tied her to an unhappy marriage more superior than the woman who sells her body to feed her child? Is writing a term paper for a college degree any harder than flipping a hamburger to make ends meet? Now I know maybe the reverse is true.
Sometimes judgment is subconscious, but now you know. I have given that self righteous bravado a voice and a face and brought it to light, now you must change it if you want to really feel free of guilt when you look in the mirror. My hope is that next time you see that shadow, you will look beneath the sheet of the ghost they think you will see, because that is how you looked at them yesterday. Instead, don’t cross the street, say good morning. Instead of a $6 cup of coffee, buy two $3 ones and give one to them. Don’t cringe at their hygiene, instead shake their hand and let them feel your acceptance. Touch their hearts, inspire their hope, and remind them that they are just as good as you are, as I have just reminded you that you are no better than them.
BY ERIN MANN
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