Today, I would like to talk about Luke.
Luke is a homeless man I see regularly when I’m heading home from work. He’s usually right at 40th street near the SEPTA station. I was seeing him every Saturday after work for a while, and I would stop and give him change or food or something – I usually tried to have something. I’d swing by Wawa and get a big ass meat hoagie and a coffee and stuff, or grab a couple of extra bagels at work or part of my lunch. It usually worked out that I had something.
It occurred to me one day that I ought to ask him his name, since I saw him so much, and I have a feeling people don’t stop and talk to him often. I see lots of people just drive right by. He remembers my face and my car, but usually forgets my name. Once I got into a little fender bender and he came over to see how I was – thankfully the other dude just decided we could drive away!
But I hadn’t seen Luke for a few weeks, and I had been hoping he found somewhere warmer to be for the season. Then I saw him yesterday while I was driving home. I said hello and gave him a dollar (all I had at the moment) and he asked my name again, and then I cried the rest of the drive home because it was so cold out. (I’m trying not to cry now at work while thinking about it). My house mate works for one of the Philadelphia Domestic Violence hotlines – I know how hard it is to find and get into a shelter here WITH help, let alone figuring out yourself. And I can imagine there are plenty of reasons why one wouldn’t want to go either.
So as soon as I got home, I put one of my spare quilts in a bag, and my housemate gave me a pair of gloves and scarf and a hat, and I had a spare scarf too, and I ran back out and stopped to get a bagel and some coffee, since we didn’t have anything around the house. However, by the time I got back there, Luke was gone and there was a cop at the intersection directing traffic (on the way home I had passed a fire truck and they had partially closed a street – by the time I made it back over there they had closed things down farther) I assumed he scarpered as soon as the police showed up – he had told me a couple of weeks before that he had been hassled by cops (I think he said it was the FBI. I’m not sure if he’s paranoid or not, but it was right when all the Ferguson protests were really in high gear, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they had given him grief.
I walked around a bit, figuring he’d have gone the opposite directions of the cops, but it was getting very late, and very cold, and finding one single person who’s probably always moving isn’t easy. So I left the bag in my car and if I see him again, they’re his. I took the coffee and on my way home , walked through the park and said a prayer to the Wight of West Philly for him and poured it out.
Part of me feels like a dick – I had been thinking I ought to walk back one of these days to talk to him, to find out his story and how he wound up here, and this was the first time.
While walking, I realized our stories probably aren’t that different. A human was born. Then, shit happened. The difference is what happened after shit happened, I would assume. Much as I can dislike, them, I have blood family who will help, and an extended network of tribe, kindred and friends to help me
On my walk home, I was crossing the street and looked down and saw this painted on the side-walk: “This one time, I almost did something, and then I didn’t”
I had said to myself a couple of times before, I ought to stop and talk to him, and of course the one time I did, this is what happened – I missed him. But I’m glad I Did The Thing – or at least, Tried to Do The Thing.
I was thinking, on my walk to find him, about how I was raised in New York/Long Island. The ‘secret’, the ‘trick’ to dealing with NYC was no eye contact. You never look at the homeless – your eyes slide right past them, and you pretend they don’t exist, and that’s how you get by. I had shaken this habit off in the past few year, but I didn’t realize quite how fucked up it was until very recently.
Realistically, there isn’t much I can do to help – I can’t find him a place to stay, I can’t feed him forever, i can’t fix whatever it was that brought him to where he is now. But the least I can do is acknowledge him as a person, as a fucking human being. I can’t help everyone.
But at the bare minimum, I can look people in the eye, call them by name, and shake their hand. I can treat them like people. All of us can do that. We can take back a little bit of our own humanity by honoring the humanity of others, and not walking past them like nothing.
Hospitality is more than having food and drink for your guests; it is more than what goes on in our own homes. I am engaging in hospitality by sharing what I have with those who don’t, and by honoring the human that they are, flaws, issues and all.