*Author's note: I wrote this in 2008.
I met a homeless guy on Sunday. Big deal, right? Well, it was...for me anyway. I was going to church for play practice when he stops me and asks for some change saying he was down on his luck and from New Orleans. I was already going to give him the money but when he said he was from New Orleans the conversation shifted from have/have nots to "Where you from?" and "Who Dat?" Ten minutes later, I had a new friend if you could believe it. Don't know his name but I know he sleeps on the steps of the Baptist church downtown and is getting his life back together slowly.
You see, he used to race on the Eastbank. 5K, 10K, and by the sound of it he was pretty damn good. He had a guy on the Westbank who I probably saw at the mall or the movie theatre and thought was a thug or something and he used to race too. I don't know what drove him to Baton Rouge (probably begins with a K and ends with a rina) but he had been trying to get his life back together. He has a job interview for the night shift at a factory across town and already has applied for food stamps and has an apartment complex lined up. The biggest perk? The landlord was giving him a 32-inch TV to help him get back on his feet. Flat screen and all. I guess sometimes you only need the Saints to cheer you up.
Of course all the good can't outweigh the bad. He had just finished one job for a contractor, putting a tile floor down in an office. The contractor remarked that it was the best work he had ever seen, then his buddy stole the glory and the paycheck. "It was messed up man, messed up," he told me. So there he was, skilled no doubt, athletic no doubt, smart no doubt. Yet he was just another bum we steer clear of and force our kids to look the other way when we pass them on the street. We only see the present: the dirtiness, the tattered clothes, and the lost hope. We don't see a former 5K champion, a guy with real drive who'd do just about anything for a shot at a good life, frills be damned. That's where it's truly messed up. When I saw this guy, I didn't see a homeless guy begging for my change. I saw a fellow New Orleanian, and if you know anything about us (or me for that matter) you know we'd do anything to help each other out, in any city that wasn't ours from Berlin to Baton Rouge. That's the pride I have in New Orleans; in our city, our people, and our culture. That's why I don't want to leave, because I'd never fit in anywhere else. I'm quirky like that, a catfish out of his filthy, dirty Mississippi River water...but I wouldn't want it any other way.
I'll be downtown on Friday, with some McDonald's and an open ear. I just feel bad right now. It's 45 degrees out and I have three comforters I'm currently not using. Suddenly, having all these luxuries and amenities is trivial. I'm grateful for everything I have: a loving family, a steady income, and an education but it just doesn't feel right going to a boutique and spending that extra cash when it could be spent brightening someone else's day. I won't miss that six dollars I gave to him. Heck, I didn't want nothing in return. Well, maybe one thing: thirty minutes or so of his life story because when you take away every comfort, every frill, and every material possession you're left with hope and faith. Hope that one day you'll live without the constant worries of life and faith in God knowing that whatever you believe in and pray for He will deliver. I left him with a "God bless you" and a "take care of yourself." Something tells me his life is about to make that turn and I'll be blessed if I was only just a minute part of it.
I chose to post this because of Matthew West, more specifically his song "My Own Little World." The song, and specifically the lyrics below, struck a chord with me that brought me back to this piece. The lyrics below are a prayer I try to say everyday.
Father, break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
Put Your light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me