I was making my way to a book store downtown in my own little world, absorbed in my own thoughts, with no desire to interact with anyone other than get through and get gone.
A man came out of God-Tel, a local homeless mission, up the sidewalk from me. He started walking towards me and I dutifully moved to the right so we would cross in the socially acceptable manner.
He walked with no sense of purpose, and his steps had no urgency. I glanced at him to give the slight nod of the head that men give each other that says, “I see you. I recognize you and respect your presence, but I have no intention of talking to you”.
Instead of making the acceptable brief, expressionless eye contact and responding in kind with the same nod back, he looked away toward the street.
Not giving eye contact raised a red alert alarm, so I steadied my gaze on him as he ambled toward me.
He was about my age, height, weight. He was sloppily dressed in old, dirty jeans and brown work boots worn six months past their life expectancy.
He wore a threadbare, musty orange long sleeved shirt with one sleeve rolled up his forearm and the other flopping carelessly at his wrist. His shirt was tucked in the front and he wore a black, extra-long belt, which was made for a much bigger person than him, but he had punched extra holes in it so it would buckle. The belt doubled after the buckle disappearing somewhere behind his shirt tail hanging in the back.
His skin was worn and weathered far beyond his age, and three or four days of razor stubble dressed his face up to the edges of his short, matted hair.
He had deep worried lines furrowed in his forehead with permanently etched smile line wrinkles that seemed more of an afterthought than wrinkles.
His eyes were empty and sad, almost drained in a way, as though time and circumstances had beaten him down. The man’s spirit had a sense of hopelessness, maybe more of a helplessness really.
As we passed on the sidewalk, I intentionally spoke. “How are you, sir?”
The man glanced at me, made a socially acceptable nod. “Fine. You?”
“Good, thank you.”
As quick as that, we were on the same sidewalk walking in different directions. A little way further, I turned to watch him walk away.
I wondered what regrets the man was feeling. What’s his story? What opportunities did he make the best of, and what did he miss?
Where did he grow up? Was he loved as a kid? Does he respect himself? Does he want to really live, or is it sufficient to him just to exist now?
Does he have any glimmer of hope, and what grief does he carry? Who cares if he’s around or not? Who has he helped in life, and who has he hurt?
Does he get to laugh sometimes, or is the pain just to great, to strong, lingering like a thick fog clouding his soul? Does he have a friend, a real one?
And what’s he gonna be doing next year? In five, ten, twenty? What will he eat tonight and how many people will look past him, as if he is invisible, and has he become invisible inside, even to himself?
If I were him, what I would do?
I watched until he turned out of sight several blocks away. The book store wasn’t important anymore, so I started back to my car, still wondering what his world was like, what he felt, what was his future.
Shouts of reality scream in my ears, but whispers of time echo in my mind.
I could’ve been him. He could have been me. What good or grace do I deserve so that he and I would not share a common fate?
I don’t know.
I really don’t know.