Dear Hope Nation,
Today, when I walk into a store or business, I’m generally treated pretty well. As long as I keep my jackassery to a minimum, customers and clerks alike act like I’m a real live grown-up. As this picture demonstrates, I look safe as milk and slightly less fattening:
As a man in long-term recovery with a professional job and a late-model car, I am clearly not a person upon whom an eye needs to be kept. I may not (do not) have the kind of looks that turn women dewy, but I do have a face that looks unlikely to pass counterfeit money or use a stolen credit card. In short, I am treated like a human being.
That has not always been the case, and it may not be in the future.
When you’re homeless and not-so-clean, the world doesn’t just shy away, it actively walks while looking over its shoulder. Instead of a greeting, you’re given wide berth. Folks assume by the whipped-dog look on your face that you don’t have much to say and what does come out of your mouth is useless.
Look at this Sad Sack here, for example. Unkempt gray hair, leather jacket, thousand-mile stare—clearly he’s jonesing for something, anything to feel different. Snorted, shot or boofed, anything to get him out of who he is. If he’s lucky he might get handed a five, to which he better say “God bless,” or the cash might be yanked back out of his hand.
Or this guy with CREEP written all over him. The light behind him looks to be in some kind of sleazy piss factory men’s room, and he could well be dreaming of offenses so heinous they haven’t been named yet. If you value your family, your money or your pets, you will keep away. And, PLEASE, don’t catch his eye or you’ll be placed in his fantasy bank.
If remorse had a face . . . How many nights of “overdoing it” will it take for this guy to recognize that doing it at all can’t ever work for him? Buying enough wine so he won’t run out helps guarantees he’ll always have supplies to find a blackout and then . . . who knows? Luckily, he seems to still have a place to shower, but he’ll drink that away soon enough, the same way he and booze have disappeared everyone and everything that ever mattered to him. And yet, night after night, he thinks it’s going to be different.
Obviously (I HOPE!) these are four pictures of me taken over the past few months, with the first being the latest. Get a haircut, put on a cashmere sweater, add a smile and I’m back to being safe and, even, boring. As an old white man, I’m pretty damned lucky.
Please, please, please remember all this when you see folks on the street, people who seem down on their luck and up against the world. Inside each of us is a human being, perhaps dying to get out or perhaps just dying to die. Whatever their situation, we can make it a bit better by treating them as human beings.
I matter. You matter. We matter. They matter.