Driving home recently, I saw a man with a sign that read: “Homeless Vet. Anything will help.” I pulled over to talk with him. We only chatted for a few minutes, but I haven’t stopped thinking about something he said. “I got kicked out of my apartment again,” he explained. “Third time! I’m nothing but a nuisance, but I don’t mean to bother people.” A few years ago, I would have been quick to judge this man. “Follow the rules,” I likely would have thought, “and you won’t have to live like this!” I remain committed to principles of personal responsibility, but I now tend more toward the trenches of individual need than the heights of smooth doctrine. Regardless of my own views, this man’s sincerity was deep, and I believe him. He never aspired to the label of societal drain. I know for certain he doesn’t enjoy begging to sustain his life. But given the circumstances, I wonder if he has much of a choice.
Several years ago, I started to notice my brain acting irregularly. Even so, I continued to overload my schedule to meet unreasonable expectations, and my mind eventually broke. As mentioned in a previous post, I now actively struggle with anxiety and depression. Some days are good. Others are not. Thankfully, I am surrounded by the constancy of family, friends, and colleagues. On days of clarity, however, I wonder where I would be without them. Could I find myself in this man’s situation?
I am a faculty member at a major university. My new friend regularly sleeps under a bridge. By the world’s standard, we couldn’t be more different, but are we really? With a few minor twists in our life storylines, might I be the one with the cardboard sign? And could I really rise above this man’s challenges without support? Probably not. I’m not just talking about finances either. I mean without the help of someone—or a circle of someones—who would make the daily choice of love, despite the mental and physical disabilities that undoubtedly circumscribe this man’s ability to keep a job, stay in an apartment, and live a fulfilling life. Despite, to use his own words, being a nuisance.
I may never be cured of depression. I understand the strain that places on those closest to me. They love me anyway. So what am I saying? I’m not sure really. But I do know that the man I met recently at an off-ramp underpass is in fact a man, and not an annoyance to be endured. He is my brother. And we are more alike than society wants to admit. We would do well to judge less and love more. It could save a life. It certainly has mine.