by Kenneth Justice
~ Last week at coffee I spent a couple hours talking to one of the quasi-homeless guys that hangs out at the café. I say ‘quasi’ because he receives a small monthly stipend from the government but he lives at a homeless shelter and uses his gov’t check to buy food, coffee, cigarettes and alcohol……
One of the most difficult things I struggle with in life is my tendency to want to tell other people how they should live. Too often I want to hoist my personal standards of living and force it upon others….. and as we were talking I realized the questions I was asking were clearly ‘critical’ conveying my negative opinion of this homeless guys choices in life,
—) “I don’t get it dude, why don’t you go get a simple job so you don’t have to live in the homeless shelter?” I asked
—) “Why do you like living at a homeless shelter? I visited the shelter you stay at and it sucks” I asked
—) “Don’t you want to do something more with your life?” I asked
Fortunately, this particular guy and I have been ‘acquaintances’ for at least five years now so he wasn’t offended by my questions….even though the spirit with which I was asking them wasn’t all that nice.
“Look Kenneth, I’m happy with the way my life is….what more do you want from me?” he said
Once I finally realized I was being rude, I apologized to him and we ended up having a nice conversation the rest of the evening. Nonetheless, the conversation reminded me how difficult it is for me at times to understand the choices that other people make. Maybe its a product of my ultra-conservative religious background in which we were taught to condemn and look down at anyone who didn’t share our beliefs……or maybe its an American thing where I assume everyone wants to join the ‘rat race’ in order to make a ton of money.
The simple fact of the matter is that this particular homeless guy is happy with his setup;
—) he gets a free cot to sleep on at night (although he’s stuck in a room with fifty other very smelly guys who will steel his backpack if he doesn’t keep it under his pillow)
—) he gets a free meal once a day at the soup kitchen run by a local church
—) he gets the small government check to buy cigarettes, alcohol, and the junk food I always see him carrying around
And most of all the guy has no responsibilities in life. On warm nights in the summer I see him sleeping on park benches after a long night of drinking when he didn’t feel like walking back to the shelter. He doesn’t have to worry about paying bills, or taking care of children, or meeting the emotional needs of a significant other, and he doesn’t have to worry about buying Christmas presents for anyone…….he doesn’t have a care in the world.
But I don’t envy him.
You see, so often in the Western World we find ourselves complaining about paying the bills, the cost of raising children, the annoyance of going to work….and all the other elements of adult responsibilities….but maybe those things aren’t so bad. Because as much as I’m learning to love other people (like this homeless guy) and let them live life however they want to live it; and not judge them for it…….I’m also realizing that in many ways I’m grateful for all the responsibilities in life that I have.
—) I’m glad I have to get up early in the morning to stay abreast of all my responsibilities
—) I’m glad that I have to work hard to pay my bills
—) I’m glad that I have a reason to keep staying faithful in my responsibilities
It’s not that I aspire to be the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation or anything like that……and even though work can be very tedious at times…..I’m glad I have a job; I would rather be working than be drunk and asleep on a park bench. Waking up with a hangover isn’t my kind of ‘fun’…..and having to guard my few possessions in life under my pillow from other homeless people doesn’t sound like very much fun to me either. And while I’m learning to be okay with the choices that other people make and how they want to live their life…..it doesn’t mean I have to be ashamed for the way I’m living my life.
As I was going through my monthly budget this morning I began to think about the homeless guy’s ‘no responsibility’ life; and while it might be nice in some way to never have to pay a bill ever again…….perhaps that’s not what I really want out of life. Maybe its through the responsibility of working a job, and paying bills, and putting food on the table that we learn to grow and mature in a way that could never happen if we were simply living on the street with not a care in the world.
Yesterday it was the homeless guy’s birthday and me and a couple other patrons bought him a gift card to the coffee shop we all hang out at…..he appreciated it quite a bit and after getting his coffee he sat down with the four of us….we had a really nice conversation.
Time for another coffee,
Categories: Culture & Society