"I'm ... new at this," he stammered as he looked down at his feet.
Me, too, I thought. The most I'd ever done for the homeless was to give a couple of dollars and a cheeseburger. The least I'd ever done was absolutely nothing. Well, not absolutely nothing: I'd often throw in a helping of judgment and disbelief for the hard luck story that didn't add up. My mother and I were down on our luck when I was growing up, but you didn't see us beating the streets to beg for money, I'd tell myself. Yes, we stood in the government cheese line a few of times early on when my father first left, but we finally managed to find jobs and work hard for little pay. Whatever we had, we'd use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. We certainly didn't beg.
Now, here I stood on the streets of downtown Dallas, wearing less pride on my sleeve. While the man's attire wasn't tattered yet, his face was -- torn in lines of defeat and embarrassment at finding himself living under a bridge.
I smiled and tilted my head low to one side to catch his gaze. Most of the men in line didn't initially make eye contact. But if you placed your hand on their forearms, looked them square in the eyes and spoke, most raised their heads and returned a smile.
"They aren't used to that," said Dwayne Pipkins, my friend and founder of The Willing Witness nonprofit in Texas. "They're used to people pretending they aren't there. They aren't used to anyone looking at them, much less touching them, and certainly not by a lady."
At least once a month, Dwayne, his beautiful wife, Julia, and other volunteers hand out basic necessities to the homeless: soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, new underwear, socks, jerky, Vienna sausages, crackers, etc. My beau (yes, still Trapper John), his daughter and I served alongside them this past weekend. It was a moving experience.
I gave toothpaste to a man who didn't have a tooth in his head. "You got gums, don't ya?!" I chided him. "Well, I cain't argue with that, ma'am!" he laughed, revealing his gummy grin.
One elderly fella said being homeless gave him a platform he never had, and he tried to remind everybody that they are all human beings and important -- including the police.
I looked at him, a bit surprised.
"Oh yes, police," he said. "They don't always make good decisions with us, but they're human. We're human."
I placed my hand on the newly homeless man's arm and stuffed a new pair of thick gloves into his calloused hands.
"We're all one paycheck, one illness, one something that could change everything and put us all on the streets," I said. "Take care of yourself, OK?" Tears welled in his eyes. He nodded and smiled in gratitude.
As we cook a turkey or put up our tree or gripe about cleaning the house this holiday season, may we remember that some will sleep beneath a tree and would love our burnt pie and house to clean. We are all human.
NAN Our Town on 11/21/2019
Print Headline: We are all just human