I had the best of intentions. I wanted to help.
Seeing the man on the corner of a busy highway intersection, pacing and brushing the dirty hair out of his face, holding up his handwritten “HOMELESS” sign, I felt the need to take action. And this time I had come prepared.
I had created what I called a “buddy bag” – a cloth bag full of toiletries, socks, a small gift card, water, granola bars…things one might need when having nowhere else to turn. And he certainly, in my mind, fit the profile. I was tired of passing these individuals and never knowing exactly what to do. This was my attempt at making myself feel better.
I always pray that I am doing the right thing. So encountering this situation, I prayed that if there was no car behind me (it was a highway exit intersection) when I came up next to him, that would be my sign to give him the bag. That happened. No car to ram me or him from behind as I tried to make the transfer.
I rolled down the window and he came closer to the car. He looked at the bag in what I deemed to be fear. Thoughts went through my head…could this be a veteran? Could the bag look dangerous and remind him of a prior bad situation? I tried with my kindest voice to let him know…it contained water, things for him…it was FOR him to use. He reached in the window and I helped him take the handles. He was so frail. He was youngish…maybe 40s. So frail, so weak, so frightened…so not present. Maybe drugs…who knows…but just so not fully aware of what was going on.
He never said a word. He took the bag and as I started to pull away, I heard the loud blast of a semi entering the exit. Oh my God! I dreaded looking back fearful that he had walked right in front of the truck barreling through.
I saw him on the side of the road…in tact, bag in tow…but so confused. He laid the bag down and went back to the road with his sign.
The words from Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz kept running through my mind. “I don’t think there’s anything in that black bag for me.” She wanted to go home…there was nothing material, no tangible item that was going to help her at that moment. “ It made me cry to realize the truth in that powerful sentence. There was NOTHING in that bag that was going to help this gentle human find his way to “home.”
I write this to remind all of us that prevention is a million times more powerful than a buddy bag. Sometimes water and toiletries are good – as I discovered during the fire evacuations – but mostly it is listening and observing and taking action before that soul steps on the highway exit with a cardboard sign.
If I can nudge even one reader to listen a little more carefully today, be alert and observe if a person might be on the brink of losing themselves…listen with your heart and follow your intuition that someone somewhere today may need a kind word…then maybe together we can help the “Dorothys” of the world realize that they have their own power to get back home. We are just there to remind.