A Choice We Often Forget

homeless.jpg

I was going through a period where sleeping was just not on the agenda. My mind was like a crossword puzzle with no answers along the bottom to help… Just questions and empty boxes with occasional bouts of darkness. I considered sleeping pills, but having just kicked a nasty little prescription pill habit, I didn’t think it was an option.

The mornings were the worst…. Most mornings my alarm clock would go off around 7 and I would struggle like hell to come out of my coma, that I had just slipped into an hour prior, after laying there all night with my heart pounding out of my chest, my thoughts invading and disturbing my consciousness, and my worries making me ill. I knew I had to do something… A shrink, a new drug habit, a hobby… Something! I couldn’t live like this. People were starting to think that I was seriously fucked up. I was having problems relating to people and becoming more and more distant because I just couldn’t be bothered to put forth the necessary effort to communicate anymore.

I rolled out of bed one morning and decided I couldn’t be bothered to shower, brush my teeth, comb my hair, or even attempt to look decent. I didn’t bother changing out of the yoga pants I had fallen asleep in and grabbed a long sleeved shirt out of my dirty hamper. I showed up at work and my boss just looked at me and said “what the hell is up with you lately?”

I shrugged my shoulders and looked at him blankly, without the slightest desire to defend myself, continue the conversation, or explain anything. I walked slowly down the hall to my dark and musty little office where I sat the rest of the day dipping into the single malt scotch I kept in my desk drawer. Every so often I would grab a coffee and pour some in to make it feel more like an appropriate drink for work.

By the time the day was over, I realized, that I had accomplished nothing, ignored 7 phone calls, and responded to no emails. I shut off my computer and headed for the door. My boss looked at me like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t and let me go.

When I got out to my car I realized that I was in a bad state. I wasn’t fit to drive. My office was in a really seedy part of town, a lot of prostitution, homelessness, and gang activity. Not exactly Bay Street. A homeless man started walking towards my car slowly but persistently peering at me through my windshield. He knocked three times very slowly on my window. I unrolled it and said “yeah”.

He had a leaky eye and a quivering smiling face. He looked like he had been to war, blown to bits, sowed back together and all with a smile. He started rambling on about how back in 1960 something he used to drive a MINI only it was a lot smaller and they’ve changed. He was really enjoying looking at my car and it gave him a sparkle in his weathered old strife filled eyes. I watched him look up to the sky as he recalled parts of his life that were a distant memory. I just let him talk, and I listened. I sat there surveying the lines on his face, the dirt on his clothes, the story his eyes told. Finally I asked him

“why are you happy?’

He laughed at me and said “look at me sweetheart. I have nothing! I have no home. I have no car. No family. No one who loves me. No job…. NOTHING! I don’t have many reasons to be happy. But that’s the one thing that I can choose to have, and no one can take that from me! That’s mine. I own that!

I couldn’t believe that something so beautiful and articulate could come from a man who to see on the street you would say “what happened to that lowlife?” He floored me.

I got out of my car with my purse clutched tightly and my car still running.

“What’s your name?”

“Oscar” he said

I reached into my purse and pulled out my wallet. I gave him all the money I had in it, which only amounted to about $60. “I want you to have this” I said.

He smiled at me, kissed my hand and said “God bless you”

And for some reason, that made me cry. And I needed to cry. I threw myself into his arms hugged him tightly and said “thank you”

“I should be thanking you. I haven’t had a hug like that in years. What are you thanking an old man like me for?” he asked

“For reminding me that I have a choice” I said.

I got in my car and backed out while Oscar stood smiling and waving at me. Tears streamed down my cheeks the whole way home, but they were the kind of tears that had long been absent from my life. The kind of tears and wisdom that I could never thank him enough for.

I never saw him again, but he’ll never leave my thoughts.

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5 thoughts on “A Choice We Often Forget

  1. Great story…

    I have this old Porsche that I fart around town in. One time I pulled into a drug store and this guy came up to just enthralled with my car. He seemed to know a lot about the car, down to the engine size, gear ratios even all the extras I have invested into on the car. Then he asked me for 5 bucks so he could get a drink.

    Another time, my wife and I were cleaning the house. I live in the older part of town. 100 year old homes fully restored. It’s a nice neighborhood but it is situated between downtown and the nearest recycling center which lies a mile or two south. So we had emptied trash and recycling stuff into the waste containers. We sort the recycling from the trash. I was on the way down the stairs and a homeless man basically had our trash strewn through my driveway. Picking out what ever he could salvage. I was just about to yell at him and chase him out because he was really making a mess and basically “stealing” the cans and bottles so he could take them in for some cash. Just as I was about to go at it, I saw him reach for some old stale tortillas we had tossed. He pulled one out and scarfed it down and took the rest for later. I was so taken back by this all I could do was watch. I then helped him take all the cans to his cart and told him that I would clean up the trash and helped him on his way. I see him from time to time going through the neighborhood with his cart. For some reason, he just seems happy like he’s a part of where we all live.

  2. thanks for that one, i enjoyed reading it and also happen to believe that the philosophy there is true.
    it fitted in with a little slot that i have in my life right now.
    oh, call me miss picky but there is some spelling askew in there; it’s no big deal but i find it distracting and it interferes with my full enjoyment of reading your work.

  3. Steve: That’s a really nice story too! I’m glad you didn’t yell at him for sniping your cans and bottles, you probably would’ve felt bad afterwards. As for the guy who knew so much about your porshe… that one’s gotta make you wonder 😉 BTW… I did indeed make spelling mistakes, but we do spell words differently than you guys too!

    Henry: Glad you enjoyed the story. I agree, I too get distracted by spelling errors when i’m reading something. Thanks for pointing them out. I did a spell check and I think I caught them all. 🙂 It was late, what can I say.

    Poobah: You’re right. Every human being has value. Every person has something to offer, something to teach, and something you can love in them. This story was based on an encounter I had outside my work with a homeless man. He inspired the story.

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