It Doesn’t Have to be Like This

Originally published as two separate posts on April 6 and April 7, 2018. I have chosen to republish it now, because it remains very relevant in September of 2020.

Today I worked from home, but left in the afternoon to come down to a going away party for another SingleHopper.

Getting into Union Station at 5pm means you’re the one late salmon swimming upstream, so I walked a slightly different way to get out of the station, which means I came out slightly more west than I normally do. As I headed north, west of the river, I came upon a young man, somewhere in his 20s, clearly homeless, cold, hungry, sitting on the freezing ground, and wracked with body-shaking sobs of despair.

And of course, since it was just after five, there were hundreds of people walking past him, ignoring or pretending to ignore him.

I was late to the party. I could have kept walking. I almost did keep walking, but I stopped instead.

I actually had a few dollar bills – not enough, of course, but I got them out to give to him. And I knelt down next to him and touched him on the arm to try to reach through his sorrow, and the first, ridiculous, heartbreaking thing he said to me was,

“I’m sorry. I’ve been so depressed.”

And part of me wanted to laugh in disbelief, and part of me wanted to weep in horror.

So I swallowed all of that, and gave him the money and asked him if I could buy him something to eat, which he turned down because someone had given him some granola bars earlier that day.

I tried to convince him to let me get him something, but he wouldn’t budge, and just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean I get to insist you take more of my charity than you want. So I said “good luck” and went on my way. The party was fun, and I got to see my friends, and we all spent money that probably could have been used better on drinks and ping-pong at the most ridiculous bar.

Of course, I looked for him on the way back to the train, but he wasn’t there. I’ll look for him more. But before I do, I’ll get to sleep in my bed, in my house, with my dearest wife, after checking on my amazing children, and then tomorrow, I’ll go to an event to be with other friends to watch people hit other people with sticks. And I’ll feel simultaneously overjoyed and terribly guilty about it.

But under all of it? Is all this:

Life is short and hard and the black dog always wins in the end. I spend a fair amount of my time bewildered about how and why human beings are terrible to each other.

We are failing as a country. As a people. As a planet. We have got to do better. I didn’t post this so people will tell me how great I am. I’m not. I left him there, and for all I know he’ll be dead before morning. And I left him there anyway.

People think I have no sense of humor. People think I’m too political. People think I waste my time posting memes about overturning the established order. Well, this is partly why. Because sometimes I cannot think of anything else to do.

And I will keep trying. But this post from Jim Wright ties in perfectly.

There are so many empty houses in America, we could house everyone. There’s so much food we could feed everyone. But instead, we’re obsessed with quarterly profits and shareholders.

Sure, I stopped and treated another human being with respect and caring and gave him a couple bucks so he could have some food, but in reality, I should never have had the interaction in the first place. He shouldn’t have been there.

Everyone should have shelter. Everyone should have food. Everyone should have health care.

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