"If having money keeps people walking along the sidewalk with their heads turned away from their fellow man, clinging to control of their lives and their wealth, than I would rather be penniless on the streets my entire life." ~Carmen
Last week, ND Friend wrote what may be the most touching blog post I have ever read. She went to downtown Chicago to interact with the less fortunate in order to write on one of the practices of Lent, almsgiving. In doing so, she met Carmen, who uttered the quote above. What was the most strinking thing about this quote was that the person of whom Carmen speaks was me. I became that person one day back in 2008.
You won't be surprised to learn that we didn't have homeless people in Logan, New Mexico. So when I moved to San Francisco, that was something completely new and different to me. It was a side of San Francisco I did not expect or understand. One so different from my own experience there.
When I first arrived, I remember thinking I would never get used to seeing homelessness. By the end of the summer, I knew I would never forget feeling the day I realized that I had done just that...gotten used to it.
At the beginning of the summer, I spoke to every person on the street who spoke to me. If I had change, I gave it to them. If I did not, I apologized. But I spoke. I saw them. I interacted with them. Acknolwedged that they were here. On the same earth as me, people like me, possessing a voice and a soul like me.
I am not sure when that changed. Maybe after realizing that no one else who I ever walked with did the same. Maybe after getting into a routine and finding myself busy with legal memos and Starbuck's runs, and weekend boat cruises. Maybe when I realized I couldn't carry enough change for everyone I encountered. Maybe I became lazy. Maybe because I questioned their motives.
Regardless of the reason, it happened. One day in July, I walked by an African-American woman sitting on the street corner at New Montgomery and Market with a cup and a sign asking for help. She asked if I could spare some change. And I ignored her. I did not look her direction, did not speak back. I walked on, as if she did not exist. As if she and I were different. As though I were better or she were unimportant. Or worse, non-existent.A few minutes later, when I got into the elevator of the 26 story building to go to my fancy office, wearing my new suit, thinking about where would have our expensive lunch, I realized what I had done. That I had gotten used to it. And that it was not okay.
Who was I to dismiss another human being? Who was I to walk by without acknowleding someone's existence? When I left the office that day, I walked back by the street corner. She was gone. As was my opportunity to apologize. To redeem myself. To prove that I was not used to it, and that I never would be again.
I've wondered since that day what happened to the woman from the corner. I wish that I could find her, listen to her speak, look her in the eye, tell her how sorry I am, and thank her for teaching me such a lesson.
Does she remember me walking by as though she did not exist? Sadly, she probably did not....because for her, it was probably a common occurrance. She probably watched hundreds of people a day walk by and act as though she did not exist. I could have changed that for her. I could have made a small difference for her, at basically no cost to myself. And I didn't. I walked right on by.
Society...people...I...failed her. That is something that I will never forget. Something I will forever regret. And because of it, homeless is something I will never get used to again.
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