Fort Lauderdale is a small town with big palm trees. Most people know someone you know. And if you have a secret, get a new car, sleep with the mailman, or contract crabs on a weekend whiskey binge, I'm pretty sure your neighbor will hear about it within the week.
Every morning and afternoon I drive past our local Home Depot. And every morning and evening, the same homeless man is sitting outside. Sometimed peddling his wheelchair into traffic to panhandle a little change for a beer.
Being the asshole that I am, I usually just roll my eyes and move on, being careful not to make eye contact or look in his general direction. It always made me uncomfortable.
When I was about 8, I went on a field trip to Washington DC. Walking my way into a museum with my classmates, I saw a homeless man on the sidewalk. He had a dog with him. He looked so sad. I reached into the depths of my brown bagged lunch and pulled out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, walked over to him and put my hand out, smiling ever so slightly. I just wanted him to have it. The man looked at me and said "I don't want your fucking sandwich!"
My heart was broken. And ever since then, I just assume the worst about people in his "situation." Bums with no heart. Schizophrenics that spend their days chattering to themselves and yelling at invisible people walking by.
This morning I had breakfast with the homeless man in front of the Home Depot.
Smith and I decided to stop into McDonald's this morning for a little breakfast on the way to work and daycare. I ordered him a set of pancakes and myself a hashbrown. We sat in our booth and talked about breakfast. What he was going to do at school today. How he would tell all of his friends about his trip to the beach and swimming in the ocean.
I recognized the homeless man immediately. Very slim. Sun spots from years of skin damage, a disheveled beard and his one leg in a makeshift cast. He began to watch Smith. Just smiling at Smith's laughs and scooting closer to us with each passing minute.
Smith took notice of him and began to point at his chair. The man was elated at Smith's interest. My first instinct is to run. Pick up my son and get the hell out of there. But something told me to stay. And that everything was okay. So we did.
We began chatting with the man. He told me about his mother passing when he was 15. He told me that he had a daughter about my age and that he thinks about her often and wonders if he has grandkids like Smith. He was very well spoken. Clear. Direct. And kind.
And when we finally were finished eating, I gave him a big smile and told him 'thank you'. He opened my eyes. And he made me see that what sometimes appears to be scary, isn't at all. That there are good people left in this world. Reminded me that despite outward appearances, people can be just handed a shitload of bad luck. And that regardless of how he appears, he has a heart. And a family out there.
I began to wonder about his mother. Does she look down on him and know where he ended up? I imagine myself as his mother. I am dreadfully scared of leaving Smith. I can't imagine not being there for him one day. I think about that man's daughter. Does she know what kind of circumstances her father is living in? If that were my dad, I would be crushed.
I googled the man when I got into work. His name is Ron Gray, sometimes known as Popeye. You can read about him here.
Ron opened my eyes. And I am so glad that I made a decision to have breakfast with Smith this morning. I want him to understand compassion. Not to fear people like Ron. Yes, of course there are a lot of troubled people out there. But just this once. Today. I came to know that not every one of these people are bad. Some just have bad luck.