Within the past year, somewhere in the United States, the following incident occurred.
From across the sidewalk, he spoke. “It’s like being naked.” He paused, staring at me as though to gauge my response to his extraordinary statement. I stared back.
Only minutes before had we been introduced, this sixty-year-old man and I, and when our names were announced, he at once moved forward and extended a brown leathery hand. His grip was fierce. Suddenly, his solemn face changed, and as would be the opening of a fine gift that had been crudely wrapped, his mouth dashed a friendly line across his wizened face, his bright eyes glittered, and around each of those deep eyes, grin wrinkles flashed.
Most revelatory of the disguised gift were his expansive vocabulary, the elucidation of his philosophy and his clarity of thought. “It’s like being naked–this homelessness. Think about it,” he admonished me. “Consider carrying your possessions with you, not having a place to launder clothes or to bathe yourself.”
Would that I could show his picture, but I cannot, for that was my promise to him. He extended the pleasure of my snapping his image, but when I asked to post it, he immediately said no, and asked why I would want to do so. I told him of my blog, and that I write about a variety of subjects, and that the article would be positive and respectful. He turned his head as though to ponder, but with a smile and another swift flash of the delightful eyes, said, “No. I’d rather not.”
“He is homeless,” my introducer had said, “and has lived on this property for twenty-seven years.”
“He has lived here for twenty-seven years.” We had just pulled onto the property and were preparing to exit the vehicle. She could see him standing on the sidewalk.
“He’s been homeless for twenty-seven years? Did you say that?”
“Well, I want to meet him.” And so we were introduced.
He is slightly built, maybe 5 feet 6 inches tall, and probably weighing no more than 135 pounds. He is Caucasian and his ample hair is brown with a stripe or two of grey. His mustache is brown. When I saw him, he wore a white tee shirt and jeans, tightly cinched with a leather belt. His neck is long, showing well defined ligaments, and his rosy cheeks are set on bones high in his face. I believe his eyes are blue. He is a brilliant man. He told me he had engaged in religious studies at Berkeley, but quickly assured me: “However, I came through those days, and emerged yet a conservative thinker.” His crinkled eyes turned on again as he offered this information.
After our conversation on the sidewalk, I went inside the building where my homeless friend was trying to locate a longer drop cord, and when again we engaged in conversation, both my introducer and I pulled out chairs, as we continued our talk. From the sides of the room a couple of other people lingered, and although they didn’t engage in the conversation, I knew they were listening.
I’ve never met anyone such as this before, although I’ve often heard that among the homeless population are many educated and highly accomplished people. The knowing of this man has startled me. I longed to hear his thoughts about why he is homeless, and why he has remained that way so long, but I was reluctant to probe, since my relationship with him had existed for less than an hour.
It is reported that the death of his wife many years ago may have devastated him and may have thrown him into deep depression, and that from such a malady he continues to suffer. It is also told that at one time he was a professor in a state university. It is known that university students often come by his sleeping place and that he assists them with calculus problems. Of a surety, he sleeps in a bus. I have seen his two dogs who keep him company and who guard him. My introducer told me that sometimes people are mean to him, and that not so long ago, vandals stole his possessions, including his bedding.
I know he is taking computer classes, that he is learning to use the internet, and that he will probably read this post. I hope he will comment here. I know I wish him well, that I will never forget our few minutes together, that I admire his intellect and his spirit, and that I grieve for his situation.
Assaults on the homeless are becoming more common and are often captured on video, like the image above, which was taken earlier this year in Fort Lauderdale. From SPLCenter.org