A Blessing in Rags

January 11, 2012
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Homeless- [hohm-lis] adj. Without a home. Ex: A homeless child. When people come across a homeless person on the street, they focus on one word. Homeless. And being homeless normally means you’re dirty. And dirty means disgusting. At least, that’s what we’ve been brought up to think. A person’s first response to this situation is to stay clear of that person. Who wants to be around a homeless, dirty, disgusting person, right? As you walk by, you keep your eyes trained on the pavement or a passing car. Whatever you can do to avoid eye contact. You stir up reasons in your head to justify ignoring this person; “How dare they sit there and beg for my hard earned money”, “If they had a job and weren’t so lazy, they wouldn’t be in this position,” you think to yourself. I know this because I’ve experienced it myself. I avoided eye contact. I made excuses for my actions. And then, within five minutes, I moved on with my life without a second thought of the homeless man I just passed on the street. What was wrong with me?
On the twenty fifth of July, in 2011, I was in Jackson, Mississippi for the NBHA Youth World. Each year, I return to Jackson’s smoldering hot, humid summer to barrel race and compete with the best of the best. That evening, after I ran, a group of us from Illinois went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant. It had been raining for the past three hours and we were glad to be inside out of the rain. As we were finishing up our meal, I noticed an old man walk in through the main entrance. He had frizzy gray hair and black sun glasses. His soaked clothes clung to his sack of bones body. When he walked, his knees buckled and his ankles twisted in a way that made me cringe. His shoulders slumped farther down with each step he took, which caused his spine to bulge through his paper thin t-shirt even more. My heart hurt just watching him. When he reached the bar, a waiter gave him a bag full of food. The old man said something inaudible and hobbled back through the front door.
After our check was paid, we gradually made our way out to the parking lot. The first thing I noticed when I stepped outside was the homeless old man. He had only made it halfway down the hill of the parking lot. I noticed my mom staring at him while everyone was climbing into their vehicles.
She said to me, “Hun, go get my purse.”
“Why?” I said.
“Because I want to give that man some money.”
I had never known my mother to give money to a homeless man. Especially in Jackson. They’re everywhere and we were told to avoid them. But I did what she asked for, and retrieved her purse from the truck. I watched her with wide eyes as she walked up to the crippled old man.
“Excuse me, Sir,” said Mom.
The old man whirled around as fast as his dysfunctional limbs would allow him.
“Here you go,” she said as she stretched out her hand to give him a twenty dollar bill.
He didn’t reach for the money, he reached for his sunglasses.
“I want to look you in the eye,” He said as he removed them.
“Take it.”
“Thank you ma’am. God bless you.”
While my mother and I were driving back to the hotel I asked her why she decided to give the homeless man money. She explained to me how she felt like God was speaking to her, urging her to give him money. She claimed the man obviously had a physical disability and that he was just another American that had been lost in the system. I started asking myself questions. What had happened in this man’s life? Had he always struggled? Did he have a home and wife and kids? Was there even anyone out there who realized he was gone? And if they did, did they care?
That year at Jackson, I made the finals for the first time. My mom swears up and down it was because of the homeless man at the Mexican restaurant and I’d have to agree with her. God truly did bless me, just like the homeless guy asked for. Ever since that night at Jackson, I have thought differently of the homeless. They’re not just homeless, they’re people. They all had dreams, goals, and ideas just like I do now. Bad decisions and choices could have led them down a bad road, or maybe they got dealt a bad hand one too many times. No one knows. Now, anytime I come across a homeless person, I don’t try to avoid them because they’re “gross,” or even make up excuses for not giving them money. I just think of that night in Jackson and ask myself those questions again. I look them in their eye and think, “What’s your story?”





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