Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Letter to the Homeless Man at City Creek Mall

Dear Sir,

 I first saw you when I came to Salt Lake City on President’s Day.  Your dog caught my eye first.  I smiled at first because he looked cute all curled up on the sidewalk.  Then I looked into his sad eyes.  I saw you and your cardboard sign and I realized what was going on.  “Can you get me something to eat?” you asked.  I smiled politely and said the automatic response of “Sorry, I don’t have anything,” and I walked away. 

I tried to forget.  I tried to just simply enjoy the Disney and the Yankee Candle store.  But your dog’s sad eyes haunted me.  I kept hearing your voice asking for food…food, something I have always had, something I find great pleasure in creating with.  Suddenly I felt like I did when I was ten years old and watched a TV movie with Lucille Ball playing an older homeless woman.  She was getting ready to go to sleep at night and after making sure that no one was looking, she took a teddy bear out of the shopping cart she pushed around all day.  She kissed it and then set it next to her.  It was over 25 years ago and I can still remember crying inconsolably because it was just so sad.  Even though I knew it wasn’t real, I wanted so badly to make everything all better for her. I felt the same thing for you and your sad dog. And then the voice of cynicism came in.  What if you were playing me and all the other people who walked by feeling sorry for you? Was it all some kind of con? Did you really need help or were you just using unsuspecting people? No offense, it’s just I’ve been lied to quite a lot in my life and sometimes I have a hard time trusting people.  I left Salt Lake an hour and later, the cynic and the fixer still arguing inside of me.

I saw you again yesterday.  I was walking into the mall and there you were, at the same place, your dog curled up beside you.   For a moment I wanted to turn away, to just continue on with my fun afternoon.  I wanted to not see you.  But I did.  I did see you.  I’m telling you this because I know what it’s like to be surrounded by people and feel like no one can see you.  “Enough is enough,” I thought and I turned and headed for McDonald’s.  I bought some burgers and chicken nuggets and then at the last minute I asked them to put in some apple pies.  I walked out to the street and handed you the back.  “Right on,” you said, “Thank you so much.” As I turned and went back inside, for a moment, I could hear you talking softly to your dog, showing him what was inside the McDonald’s bag. 
I don’t know if I’ll see you again.  I don’t know if mine was the first meal you had all day or one of many.  I’m not writing this to show how cool I am because I gave food to a homeless person.  I am writing this because I need to express something to you.  I didn’t do it just for you and your sweet dog. I did it for me too.  I did it because I am tired.  I am tired of that cynic in me that wonders if everyone who needs help has an agenda.  I am tired of seeing ulterior motives when I should see people.  It’s none of my business what has you there on the street.  You yourself, as a member of mankind, are my business, as that old familiar ghost Jacob Marley reminded me again this Christmas. 

“You’re welcome,” those were the only two words I said to you and then I walked back inside.  That’s all I could say.  You see, I also know that I can’t fix your problems.  I know that there is part of me that needs to let go of that overwhelming feeling of responsibility I felt as a little girl watching a cold and lonely Lucy Ricardo hold her teddy bear.  Even though I knew then that it wasn’t real, I knew that there were plenty of cold and lonely real people on the streets and it broke my heart.  I still want to make everything all better.  I know I can’t.  You want to know how I know that? Because I know who can make everything all better. I know that He can see you too.  He knows exactly where you are and where your dog is.  He knows where all of his people are, even those who do not have a physical address.  He can help you.   He was the one who sent that McDonald’s bag to you and in doing so He helped both us. He doesn’t want you to forget what apple pie tastes like either.

Thanks for listening.  Best of luck to you. I hope you find your way home soon. 

The lady at the mall