Yesterday, as my son, Bill, and I left the pharmacy on Marsh Street, in down town San Luis Obispo, we passed a man with reddish hair and a sad face. As we walked by, I was strongly aware of his feelings of despair, but he didn't ask for anything, so I continued on.
"Do you give people money even when they don't ask for it?" I asked Bill. He said,
"Yeah, I do, when I can tell they need it."
"I wanted to give something to that man in front of CVS. He looked so miserable."
"I noticed him, too. Maybe he'll still be there when we go back to pick up my prescription."
Later, when we came out of the pharmacy, we saw him again. This time he approached us, and asked for help.
"Could you spare a little money, so I can get something to eat?" Bill and I both dug in our wallets for something to give him.
"It was so cold last night, I couldn't get warm...and I was hungry. I'm still hungry." We both gave him some money, saying we wished it could be more. His face brightened into a smile, he thanked us, and started off down Marsh Street.
This poor guy kept returning to my mind. We could tell he was new at asking for money, reluctant to do it, but driven by need.
I thought about how easy it is, now, for people to fall out of the system and become homeless. It hasn't ever happened to me, but it could have. I have often been on the edge, financially, wondering how I would pay the rent. Somehow, I always did.
I live on a tiny income in a mobile home park. I own my home, free and clear, because I bought it years ago when mobile homes were cheap. I don't feel poverty stricken, and yet technically, I am below the poverty level. Even so, what a chasm there is between me and the redhaired man who is hungry and homeless!
My house is warm and dry, I have a bed to sleep in and food to eat. I have a studio in which to paint and a computer to write on. I have musical instruments to play and books to read. There are geraniums, succulents, trees, and a beautiful bougainvillea growing in my back yard. My son, Bobby Jameson, owns the house with me, lives here, and is the reason it is warm and dry even though the roof is 40 years old. He worked on it for months to be sure it could withstand the winter rains, and it has.
So I feel rich. I have everything I need. But the homeless man with red hair has nothing he needs, except the clothes he wears. And you can multiply this man by the hundreds, just in this one town. Worse than that, many of the homeless are women and children.
This breaks my heart. If only I could help! That is, with more than just a couple of dollars.
I grew up in the depression. There were many homeless then too. We called them "hoboes," and we would feed them when they came to our house hungry. They wandered about, "rode the rails," and lived however they could. We were far from rich, but seemed to have everything in comparison to the hoboes. I wished I could help them, and so did my mother, but all we could do was give them food when they happened to come, and now and then a hat, or a sweater, or a pair of shoes.
This disparity of fortune is heart-wrenching. The only positive side to it is that it makes me appreciate all that I have. Because of the homeless man with red hair, I know I am truly rich.