The day after the election, I was seeing and feeling so much negativity everywhere I looked. I hopped in my car to run an errand and drove past a homeless man. With all of the hate going on in the world right now, I just felt like I needed to extend kindness to this man. Seeing a homeless person in Salt Lake City is not rare, we have a very fast-growing homeless problem. This man was different. When I passed him, he wasn’t begging or asking for anything. He also had a sweet little sidekick, a small black dog. I watched him walk down the street for a bit to get a sense of him. I pulled up alongside him and rolled down my window. I asked if I could buy him a hamburger. He looked surprised but happy and said, “Oh, yes, sure you could buy me a burger.” I asked him if he wanted fries. He looked surprised and said, “Only if you’re okay with that.” I pointed to a busy parking lot alongside the restaurant and told him to meet me there. He smiled and said okay.
I pulled into In-N-Out. I bought him a hamburger meal with a coke. It was a mere $6 and change. I pulled around to the parking lot where he was sitting on the curb. I don’t think he expected me to get out and hand it to him and he definitely didn’t expect me to shake his hand and talk to him.
I introduced myself and he followed. His name was Benjamin. I reached down to pet his sweet dog and he told me her name was DeeDee. I started making conversation with him. He told me he’s had his dog for 3 years. I pointed out how well behaved she was and he smiled and said, “Yes, she is a good dog.” He told me he was born in Spokane, Washington but moved all over through the years. He became homeless in 2009 when he was laid off. He’s tried to pick up jobs here and there but nothing ever sticks. He just came to Salt Lake City from Arizona.
Typically, people have general assumptions about the homeless population. They think they are on drugs or dealing with mental issues. They may be afraid of them. They may make fun of them. They make reject them. Benjamin was different. His face was worn by the sun but he had very kind eyes. He was articulate and well-spoken. He was polite. He had no signs of being on drugs — he was very alert and sharp. We spent a few minutes chatting and I told him I was a writer. I asked if I could take his and DeeDee’s photo with my camera. He smiled. I’m assuming he hasn’t had his picture taken in a long time. I went to my car and came back with my camera. He sat and posed for the photo with DeeDee. We exchanged a little more small talk then I shook his hand and wished him well.
My exchange with Benjamin left me feeling a little better about the world. The ability to reach out and connect with someone during such a hate-filled time was good for my soul and I hope it was good for his. I took away three main lessons that transcend us all, especially in this time of chaos, anger and hate.
1. We judge and/or are scared of that which we’re unfamiliar
All too often, we as a people, look at others who are different than us and we judge them or we feel fear. Often that fear is wrongly placed because of misguided assumptions. We make assumptions and let those assumptions fuel our emotions before we even get to know the person. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we assumed less and took the time to know more?
2. We all seek love/companionship
DeeDee is that bit of companionship to Benjamin in this stage of his life. My hope is that at some point, his life will allow him to have other love and companionship but for now, at least they have each other. This is relevant for all people. Whether it’s an elderly man in a nursing home, a struggling college kid, whoever. We all need to feel love and companionship, otherwise, we feel very alone in this great big world. Reach out to someone. Be their friend. Give them a sense of companionship.
3. We all want to be seen and respected
Benjamin probably hasn’t been looked at as an equal in a long time. He was shy and his behavior showed how he’s probably been treated in recent days and months. Don’t we all want someone to take the time to understand us? Don’t we all want to be respected? Don’t we all want to be seen as an equal?
My time with Benjamin reminded me that our differences make this world beautiful but our commonality makes us thrive. We all have much more in common than we realize. Take a moment and connect with someone you otherwise would make assumptions about. You might find you have more in common than you think and you’ll help make this world a better place a tiny step at a time.
(Originally posted on Odyssey Online)