I never asked what crazy things

He sat at a picnic table shaded by an umbrella typically used by employees and the public, and he waited. All of the picnic tables, situated at the entrance to the grocery store, were sturdy and black, and bolted to the ground to prevent anyone from stealing them. They had purpose and function. Employees and the public alike sat at the tables to have a quick bite, take a break or check a shopping list. His purpose wasn’t any of these. He only waited.

I could have easily walked by him except out of the corner my eye, I saw him and stopped. He had a pleading look, but he didn’t say anything. From the get-go, I saw that he was out of sorts, clean enough, but it looked like he hadn’t slept much and his hair was sticking out in every direction; he had that electrocuted-frizz look going on. He was Caucasian, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but uncomfortable as if hadn’t showered or had a decent night’s sleep. He looked like he slept on someone’s couch or in his car, or even somewhere less desirable.

“Do you have some money for some food?” he asked. I sensed his hunger. Sitting outside a grocery store was a prime spot for asking such a question. Indeed, clearly he was on target.

“I don’t have any cash, but I can buy you something.” He raised his chin and we made eye contact. I sensed relief or disbelief or maybe something close to joy. Who am I kidding? He was probably so hungry he was beyond any rational thinking. I suspect I was the first to make such an offer. I live in Folsom, California, an area where you simply don’t see many down on their luck. It’s mostly hidden from view, and when you do see it, it’s just as easy to look away and pretend you didn’t. It’s a seemingly wholesome place (wholesome Folsom), although I know there are pockets of drugs and crime. It’s hard to escape that anywhere I suppose. This guy wasn’t strung out on anything from what I could tell, although he may have been at some point in the not too distant past. It was hard to say.

What I knew for sure was that the guy was starving. He knew exactly what he wanted from inside the store as if he had been going over it in his mind for hours, thinking of nothing else. What did he want? Frozen bean burritos and Gatorade. You could get two burritos for fifty cents, he told me. He asked if he could go in with me to do the shopping.

Inside the store, I asked if he knew the store well enough to know where things were. We walked for a bit and I introduced myself and he told me his name was Daniel. He was cautious and open at the same time.

He selected an assortment of burritos from the frozen section.

“Do you have a microwave?” I asked.

When they thawed, he would eat them, he told me. They’d keep until then, I guess, but not for much longer. Being August, the days were still pretty hot. I didn’t want to feel as though I was lording over him or that he had to shop with me, so I left to get one of those lazy, bagged salads you throw together. My plans had been for an unusually quick shopping trip.

When I was on my own wandering the store, I thought about my brother who went through meth rehab three times before pulling through. Now he’s a sponsor for many and wants to be a drug rehab counselor. What would he tell him? Would he offer advice? Would he get his story? Was I ready to hear his story and, if I heard it, would there be anything that I could do to help him? Did he want help? Would he ask for it if he did? He was starving, and that was the priority, but these questions floated through my mind.

I spotting him in the drinks aisle. Icy burritos were spilling out of his hands and now he added two large Gatorades to his load.

“You can get those drinks cold, you know,” I told him. “Don’t you want them cold?” There I was again remarking on the temperature of his items and, as soon as I said it, I saw how pathetic it was and how little I understood about his desperate situation. It seemed like it was the only thing I could say to show I cared, and it was trivial and weak.

He shook his head, “No, this is fine.” The temperature was not a concern and probably hadn’t been for some time.

We walked together with our items in hand.

“I was working at the Rubio’s, at the India House,” he went on to say. I had never asked questions, not because I didn’t want to know, but that I didn’t want him to think he had to explain in order for me to buy groceries. “Sometimes when I don’t eat, I do crazy things.”

“Well, no one should go hungry.” I never asked what crazy things.

I have a difficult time determining age these days; everyone just seems young to me. His need to survive dimmed any youthful recklessness he may have had in him. He seemed ageless to me then. He just needed to eat.

I did something and he truly appreciated it, but really it wasn’t very much. About five bucks is all. I left feeling I could have done a lot more for him or at least bought him something fresh. I’m not in a great financial position to feed other people and I didn’t do it so I would feel good about myself. I simply recognized that everyone should be able to eat, shouldn’t they? And yet, so many don’t and we may watch them suffer because it seems easier to look away. For once, I had compassion, and I have to tell you, it did make me feel good. Mostly, it made me feel human.

photo credit: Breads via photopin (license)

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42 thoughts on “I never asked what crazy things

  1. What an amazing story! To be able to help someone, no matter how small, is an amazing gift. You can see that life is precious and we all have bad days and need a little help. I am not a bleeding heart by any means, and there is a big difference between someone who desperately needs help and those that ‘use’ others. Congratulations on a beautiful gesture!

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    1. Oh, wow. Thanks for that, Giselle. I think a lot of people may wonder if they’re being taken advantage of. This was definitely not one of those times. Everyone has bad days, so true. We all probably need more help than we dare to admit. Thanks so much for reading.

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  2. Beautiful story, Amy. Sometimes you just have to give when a situation crosses your path in life and then just let it go. I would hope someone would give me that same unconditional help someday if I really needed it. You made a difference in someone’s life and that’s all that matters. xoxo

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    1. Thanks, Kelly. This was a situation that definitely crossed my path. I hope it gave him some hope at least, knowing that people still care. Thanks for your lovely comments. xoxo

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    1. I’m sure my brother would have good advice. He always does. He’s doing really well. I’m very proud of him. It was a small thing, but it meant a lot to me to help him. It was good for both of us. Love to you, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of times, I don’t do anything when I could. I’m not sure what was different about this time, but I’m really glad I could help him out. I always look for him now, but really I hope I don’t see him, because then I can hope he’s in a better place.

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  3. I work downtown, so I see homeless people every day. I see the mentally ill who wander our streets every day. I see people who just need help every day. Occasionally, I’ll give them a buck or two. But every time I come across one, I think of doing what you did. “Let me get you something to eat. What do you want?” There are enough restaurants within a block or two of my typical downtown jaunt that I could get just about anything. But I think to myself that if I do that for them, I want something from them in return. Their story. What brought them to where they are.

    I have a tremendous amount of respect for what you did. It’s something that almost nobody does and we should all do more things like this. If we are honest with ourselves. If we truly believe in the power of love and treating our fellow human with respect and dignity. If we believe that we, as individuals and as a collective, can make a change. If we believe that just taking one small step forward can make a difference. Well, then, anybody who believes those things, should be doing what you did. I applaud you for this and that you did it inspires me to be more open to the possibilities the next time I walk through downtown Sacramento.

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    1. I think when you see it everyday you almost stop noticing it. It becomes part of the common everyday background. It’s only recently in the last few years that I’ve seen it more out in the open in Folsom. I’m sure homelessness has been a problem, but I feel like it’s just more common here lately. I think the feeling of helping others can be overwhelming because the problem seems so big. But maybe it does start with helping one or at least just helping one person can mean everything to that person, maybe even the difference between surviving or not. That is pretty huge when you think about it.

      I appreciate those kind words, but I don’t really think I deserve them. I know I could do more, too. If I inspired anyone today that brings a smile to my face. The power of love can be everything. I want to give your sincere words in these comments a standing ovation. Thanks, Mark. They mean a lot to me.

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  4. With a brother-in-law as a rehab counselor, I hear his voice telling me never to give money. But food has always seemed a good option. “Here, have half of what I’ve got,” seems the most human act. This was a great reminder.
    (To lighten the mood there’s this- I bought some granola bars, nuts and a few drinks for a man asking for change in Boston outside of CVS this winter. I gave him the bag when I left the store… later realizing I’d also given him my new Burt’s Bees lipgloss and toothbrush, too. Thank goodness it wasn’t tampons?)

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    1. Money is tricky. In this case, I probably would have given him money if I had it, but I really didn’t. I hardly ever have cash in my pocket, Jen. Ha! That’s really funny about your story. He got quite a deal, I would say! Good for you for helping him out. 🙂

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  5. That’s a nice post, Amy. I wish I would engage myself with the homeless but I tend to look right through them. There’s been a pretty severe uptick in the homeless population here in NYC and part of your NYC mettle is to numb yourself to the less fortunates in the street. It develops over the years like a callous. It’s a defense mechanism that allows you to meander through your day without being overwhelmed by sadness. Because if you paid close attention, you’d soon collapse under the weight of the human suffering that surrounds you.

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    1. I get that. I used to live in a bigger urban area. I remember that. It’s overwhelming and it feels like people are too far gone to help, those who are addicts are mentally ill, especially. I’ve given bits of food to people, a few bucks. This is the first time I went shopping with someone. 🙂 He humbly got the least he could. I feel guilty thinking I could have got him something better at the very least. Even when he left the store, he would have had to wait until his burritos thawed to eat them. Anyway, it’s sad that so many people suffer and there is so much food wasted all the time. It’s not a matter of not enough food. Thanks for your comments, Mark. I appreciate them.

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    1. Hey, thanks for thinking of me! I’ll check it out. Whoa, the NY Times. We’re in the big leagues. It’s about the horrible drought. Yeah, it’s bad. You can see parts of the bottom of the lake in Folsom Lake now. They say we may have an El Nino. I hope so!

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    1. Thanks, Mark. It really did make me feel good to do something. I hope he’s in a better place.

      P.S. Thanks for reading all my posts, Mark! I appreciate it. I want to catch up on your blog. Since school has started, I’m in homework land. I’ll pop over soon.

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  6. Great thing you did Amy, and funnily enough I had a similar experience last week! Well, much briefer than yours, but I was in Greece (I’m posting about it tomorrow, not the thing I’m just going to tell you, but the trip as a whole!). We were having lunch outside in quite a fancy restaurant and an elderly lady was coming around begging, everyone was turning her away and I wasn’t sure what I would do if she came to our table, because you hear sometimes don’t you that beggars are actually just con artists who aren’t down on their luck at all, so you never know, anyway when she came to our table, she just said “Please, I have no money” and I right away knew it was real because I totally felt her desperation, so I reached into my purse and pulled out a 20 Euro note and just pressed it into her hand. I would have felt too awful turning her away when we were sitting there enjoying drinks and food at a lovely restaurant! Like you say, it’s a small thing, but if nothing else it can give someone hope and belief in humanity again right?

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    1. Oh, thank you, Vanessa!! And how so good of you to offer the woman some money. I think sometimes you just know when you’re not being conned and someone needs help. I know there are so many desperate people in this world, but I think if everyone could take the time to help someone out, it could make such a difference, right? Anyway, it made me stop and think.

      Wow, you went to Greece?! Ooh, I want to hear all about it. I can’t wait to see some pictures!! Thanks for reading and for your lovely comments.

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