my friend and i went to a funeral today.
the sun was shining just right through the stained glass windows, illuminating the church with varying shades of red, green, yellow, and blue. this funeral was different from other ones that i have been to in that i didn’t know the man or what he looked like. i didn’t know if he had any kids or what his favorite foods were. i didn’t know what his laugh sounded like or whether or not he showed his teeth when he smiled. i don’t know where he last worked or what he hoped to accomplish in his life. i knew nothing more about Terry expect for the fact that he did not have a home. that he died as a result of sleeping outside after our last frigid storm. i know that he was giving; “the first to give out a blanket to other people who were staying under the bridge”– one of his two friends at the funeral told us.
the funeral was attended by two of his friends sitting in the front row- wiping tears from their eyes and leaning on one another for support- and by people from community agencies, participants of this particular church, and by other people in the community who believe that every life should be honored, celebrated, and mourned.
and what sticks out to me was not just that this man died as a result from sleeping outside amidst a severe winter storm, but that he lived years of his life without a home, and assumingly, without some of his needs being met. maybe he had a long history of substance abuse or a severe mental illness that was not being treated. maybe he was a veteran that served our country in vietnam or a child who was once in foster care. or maybe he came from a wonderful home. maybe he made a few bad choices. and maybe he made some good ones too. i don’t know what his steps were. and i don’t know that it should matter. what matters is that people be afforded the opportunity to change their life circumstances, that people be offered a hand when they are down, and that they be understood rather than judged. my heart breaks a little bit more with every condemning facebook post i read and every judgmental comment i hear regarding the people we cast as ‘others’- the homeless whom we expect to accept less and remain separate from the society in which we participate.
i tell you this story for the sole purpose of raising awareness. of reminding you that yes, those you seeing sleeping under a bridge, standing on street corners, and wandering the streets are homeless. but first, and most importantly, they are people. did you know that in 2013, 13 people in oklahoma city died as a direct result of their homelessness? are you aware of the differences between people who panhandle and people who are homeless? and did you know that there are reasons for homelessness other than substance abuse? in oklahoma city, people who are homeless are most often chronically homeless, living with a severe mental illness, or are veterans who served our country. and if you are going to gawk at someone from the comfort of your car, i hope you will take the time to look beyond their appearance and into their heart. and while you are looking, maybe take a look inside of your own heart too.
i believe that when you have love for all of mankind, you don’t judge other people’s paths or condemn their lives. you don’t put conditions on your love or stipulations on your gifts. and i don’t think help is about who deserves it and who doesn’t. i think help is about remembering all of the advantages you’ve had in your life that other people haven’t. it’s about understanding that we will all walk the earth in different ways and make different mistakes to get there. and when you have genuine concern for others, i believe you care more about where they are going than where they have been.
because it was february 13th, it was also the celebration of “galentines”- a two year tradition my friends and i started doing in conjunction with RAK week. On this day, we all go out to eat in celebration of our friendship and valentines day and jointly participate in a RAK in honor of random acts of kindness week.
an adorable elderly man sat in the corner of the restaurant; glasses and a little sweater, red wine and a small steak. we all knew that we’d pick him. we made him a make-shift valentines day card and told our waitress we wanted to secretly pay for his meal. we sat around the table and attempted to guess his life story.
we ate our dinner and conspicuously watched as his waitress told him that his meal had been paid for. “people must love you,” we heard her say. we watched him fold the card, unfold it, and look around the room. he re-read the card and looked for familiar faces. we watched him and his waitress talk before he slowly got up and left the restaurant. he read the card one more time before putting it in his wallet.
and that was it. except that it wasn’t.
his waitress came to our table with tears in her eyes and said, “i just had to let you all know what you did for that man. he and his wife used to be regulars here, but he hadn’t been back since she passed away last year. they used to come here and eat together on valentine’s day and he came out for the first time tonight in her honor.” he ordered cake for dessert and only ate half. she continued on to explain his wife’s funeral reception had been held at this restaurant and that that was the last time he had been there. she explained that the man kept looking around in disbelief because ‘it had been a running joke he had with his wife because people were always paying for their meals when they went out to eat together.’
“i feel like she was here with me today,” he said.
and maybe she was.
and i tell you this story because it will forever be a reminder of the impact of a small gesture of kindness. a reminder that we don’t know each others’ stories unless we take the time to hear them. i learned that on an ordinary day, you might have the opportunity to reach out and grab someone else’s hand. and by doing so, you may have a change in your heart. an affirmation or a calling. and more importantly, maybe the person you reach out to will reach out to someone else or be changed by it. and then maybe, just maybe, we’d have ripples of connection and waves of kindness. in an indirect way, i saw love and death in different forms today. love for a friend, love for a wife, and people being brought together because of it. i saw death in honoring a man’s life and observed it from a far as an elderly man ate valentine’s day dinner alone for the first time. at a small church and in a quiet restaurant i was reminded of the power of human connection and the universal devastation of loss. and i’ve come to understand that no matter what walk of life you are on, we are all humans who need one another.
i believe in the power of single, unsuspecting moments. and i believe that there are so many things that can happen in one day. one late afternoon. one lifetime.
february 13th was a beautiful day.
today was meaningful because i was just a stranger, sitting in on other people’s love.