Half begging, half protest
I have a soft spot for the downtrodden, so it’s not uncommon for me to give a few coins to the occasional beggar. “What’s his story?” I often ask myself as our eyes meet for a moment. “How did he end up here?”
Today I actually stopped and asked.
I passed this guy on my way home from work tonight. As I drove by, two things caught my eye: First, his ear-to-ear smile. And second, his hand-lettered sign: “NWO serf.” Clearly, this was no ordinary hobo.
I pulled a U-turn and drove into the Burger King parking lot. “Maybe I should grab him some dinner,” I thought. So I bought two Tendergrill sandwiches, a Coca Cola, and some water for his dog. Then I crossed four lanes of traffic to get to him.
I was very conscious of my body language as I walked toward him. I didn’t know what I might be walking into: Was he crazy? A drunk? A serial killer?! I tried to exude both confidence and friendliness as I approached him.
But there was no need for worry; his smile broadened even further when he saw me, and his dog ran toward me, to greet me.
“I saw your sign,” I said, “and I’m wondering what it’s about.” At first he rambled about the usual conspiracy stuff, but gradually he became more coherent. He used to work as a trucker, he said, “but I couldn’t keep a job because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.” Eventually he decided that he was better off living on the street.
“What’s your name?” I asked him. “Mud,” he answered. “I’m Heather,” I said, as I extended my hand. “I’m John,” he replied. “I don’t care if you know my real name. I’m not hiding. They already know who I am.”
He was tired of seeing the injustice in the world, John said. He was tired of seeing the working folk grow poorer and the rich grow exponentially richer. He was tired of seeing the environment be damaged. So he decided to live off the grid. “What I do is half begging, half protest,” he said. And I knew exactly what he meant.
He introduced me to his dog, Pickle, who had already become my friend. Then he told me about his kids—especially his daughter, who works as a registered nurse at a children’s hospital. “They think I’m nuts,” he said of his kids. But he had few regrets: This life was his choice, and he was being true to himself.
In the few minutes that we talked, I couldn’t help but be aware of the passing cars. Some people stared. A few laughed. Others avoided eye contact at all costs. Each approach was equally unnerving and dehumanizing. But he just kept smiling.
I asked for permission to write about him. “Sure!” he answered. “No problem!” Then I took a parting shot of his trademark smile.
By the time I’d made it back to my car, he’d vanished.
I know that John will be OK. But as I write this, I’m haunted by the faces in the passing cars. Why would they laugh at a homeless person, or ignore someone in need?
Suddenly I find myself transported into John’s world, where the signs the homeless hold up are half begging, half protest.
Filed under: Ethics, Minnesota, Politics, Psychology | 8 Comments
Tags: beggar, homeless, postaday2011, Psychology