When I was very young, on a hot summer day, I saw something I’d never seen before. My mother had taken my sister and me to a store in another part of town. Next to the store was a convenience store. There I saw a man wearing a tan corduroy blazer and a New Orleans Saints hat sitting on the front curb. He had a loaf of bread lying beside him, a jar of something I couldn’t see and he was trying to put together a sandwich to eat. He looked defeated – like he was just barely hanging on.
My mother saw that I was disturbed by what I saw and told me not to worry about it. She said the man was probably eating outside since it was a nice day. But I knew why he was eating there on the curb of the convenience store – he had no other place to go. He was homeless.
I don’t know how I knew he was homeless. They didn’t explain homeless people on Sesame Street. There were poor people in my neighborhood, but no one homeless. Yet I knew he had nowhere to go.
He never acted like he saw us. He never asked us for anything. I wasn’t afraid of him. But it bothered me that he was struggling to feed himself. I didn’t know how he survived without a home. What bothered me most is that I assumed no one else in the world cared about him or else they would’ve helped him. He had no family. He had no friends. He was just there. It bothered me so much.
Sometime later, my father took us on a road trip to see a friend of his. On the side of the highway outside of town, I saw the homeless man again, still wearing his tan blazer and Saints hat, trying to hitch a ride to somewhere. What an amazing coincidence to see him yet again. Seeing him troubled me. I kept it to myself. Decades later, the thought of that lonely, struggling man troubles me the same way it did years ago.
If you have a place to stay – whether it’s a nice place or a lousy place – food to eat and someone who cares about you, consider yourself blessed. I’m pretty sure that man I saw when I was a child had none of those things.
I hope you’ll help people like that man, just as I try to do. In my community, the Memphis Union Mission gives shelter and other assistance to the homeless. The Mid-South Food Bank provides food for thousands of hungry people each day. The Church Health Center provides medical care to those who cannot afford it and desperately need it. Please remember to help those less fortunate than us.