There but for the grace of God go I. That is what I think every time I see him – a small, thin, homeless man that has recently taken up residence on a street corner two blocks from my apartment.
There are homeless all over this city, all over any city, so why does this man disturb me so? Somehow he reminds me of myself and my own vulnerability. If it weren’t for my own personal safety nets of family and close friends, I may have been in a similar place. I may yet be in such a position.
That is what scares me. I have always been able to look past or around the homeless. I was able to tell myself that they had some mental illness that made them this way (although I often wonder if mental illness is a cause or an effect of homelessness – likely a combination of both). The truth is there is a very thin line between normality and abnormality. There is a fight each day to maintain an outward appearance of normality when in reality I am not much different than this homeless man. All it would take would be one slip, one break in disciplining my mind, or, more likely, some external circumstance (dare I say fate) and I could see myself walking the streets like him.
Then what? Could I survive? Could I live in his world? No home, no walls, no security. How does it all begin? What is that first night alone in the street feel like? How do you learn to adapt? How do you transition from a life of comfort and security to one of hardship and danger, from a life of dignity to one of lowliness and invisibility?
I honestly think I would kill myself before becoming homeless, but then what does that say of me, and of the homeless? Am I the coward? Is he the brave hero for accepting and living life head on, no matter the circumstances? Am I the coward for preferring to quit than to live the life given to me? I pray that if it comes to that I find the strength to go on living, and to find dignity in the simple act of life.
This man has opened my eyes, allowed me to see part of my soul, and I do not like myself.