Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity, nothing exceeds the criticisms made of the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed and well-fed. ~Herman Melville
His name was Carroll… I think this is the way he spelled it… I used to see him every day on a certain corner in my city. I saw him every day because I had to pass that way as I left from work to go home. It was hard to ignore him, because invariably I would get stopped by the traffic light at the corner…and there he was…looking at all the people in the cars as they waited for the light to change…looking at me.
He carried a sign much like other “beggars” do that stand on other street corners, and he also showed an ID card of sorts – a card that said he was a veteran of the US military.
After a few days of sitting at the light, waiting for it to change, and trying to avoid looking at him (everyone knows that if you make eye contact, “they” will come up to the window of your car expecting money, right?), and feeling more and more uncomfortable, I decided to risk it. Just before the light changed, I looked at him, smiled and gave him a little wave. He smiled and waved back. The light turned green, and I was off.
From then on, I decided to treat him not as a beggar on a street corner, but as a person. Each day, I’d smile at him and wave. He would always respond in kind. Soon I got a little braver and actually rolled down my window to speak with him. Simple stuff… “Hey there, how’re ya doin’ today? Gotta go. Take care.” Once in a while I’d give him a dollar or two… but my main goal was simply to engage him in conversation in the same way that I might have a conversation with someone at work…to acknowledge to him (and to myself) that he was a human being, a person of dignity and worthy of my respect…worthy of being noticed and counted in this world!
Carroll would always smile and wave, and on those days when I might have been lost in my thoughts after work, maybe looking to Carroll as if I was sad or feeling down, he would always try to get my attention and smile at me, in an effort to lift my spirits… and it usually worked.
I don’t know what Carroll’s “story” was, what circumstances in his life led to his standing on a street corner with a sign and a vet’s card, asking people for help and money. I didn’t feel I had the right to ask him those questions… but I did ask him his name one afternoon, and he told me it was Carroll.
There are many “Carrolls” in our world… and most of the time they make us uncomfortable and we don’t want to see them. To many people, the “Carrolls” of our world are beggars, or bums, or “alkies”, or druggies, or lazy, or mentally unstable, or…any other label we choose to give them without really knowing them or their stories. They are “broken” and need to be “fixed”… and of course, we know how to do that, even though we don’t know the first thing about them… we see them as problems and whatever label we’ve given them… but we don’t see them as persons of dignity with names and likes and hopes and fears and dreams… that might make them too much like us…
Carroll has not been at his usual corner now for a couple of months… I don’t know what has happened or where he has gone, but I hope he is ok… I miss seeing him.