He was lying on his side, his shirt pulled up to expose a white stomach, his head lolled back against his arm, the empty bottle a few feet to his left. His long, unkempt hair fell partly across his face. People flowed around him on the sidewalk, noticing without noticing. I slowed as I passed by, unsure what to do, and left without much choice as I continued on past him.
Just two hours earlier I'd walked past the same man, the bottle gripped firmly in his hand as he gesticulated in animated conversation with another homeless man.
For the next ten minutes I slowed my pace and watched people as they flowed in seemingly endless fashion, talking and hurrying, in and out of buildings and cars like a river with a thousand invisible streams. At some point the absurdity of it all struck me, and flashed back to the man passed out on the sidewalk.
Everyone was going somewhere... except him.
Had something happened in his past? Had he suffered a mental breakdown? Was it a health issue? Had he lost his job or his mind or both? Had life abandoned him at an early age? Or had he simply given up because he was tired of trying to find his stream? His purpose.
There is never one answer why someone does anything, and there are a thousand reasons why a person shouldn't bother doing anything. In many ways, it makes more sense to give up this search -- for God, for self, for purpose -- than it does to leap into the strange world we live in.
Where are all these people going? And why? Won't we end up in the same place anyway?
When I was younger I would not have understood that question. I wouldn't have understood what it meant to be broken, to experience life's struggles to the point where you simply wanted to give up. I wouldn't have understood this idea that there IS an absurdity to life, to being human.
Some people are lucky. They will go through life and never have to confront this issue. Maybe they were born in great circumstances or maybe they've made safe choices or maybe it's their personality. Whatever the reason, they will look at the homeless man and say "get up" without thinking about it. Or maybe they will want to help, but even doing that they will never suspect themselves capable of ending up on the street or stripping at a club to pay for diapers or even collecting bottles to buy one more drink.
I think that way sometimes. I realize that I probably won't be rich, but I won't be poor either. And that even if I'm poor, I'll be educated and polite and socially correct. I'll use big words and charming words and make people like me. I won't spit or swear or laugh at the wrong time.
I think about that because I know that in some ways I am the man on the street.
About fifty per cent of all homeless people are mentally ill. (So telling them to "get a job" is probably not helpful) But having spoken to some of them, I also know that sometimes people just quit. They've been beaten down in life, and so they drop to their lowest form of existence.
What's ironic is that while I celebrate my life, it doesn't mean anything if I am doing the same thing, does it?
I know people who are wealthy and who have given up. You might not know it, because they were born in the right situation. They handle their heartbreak with booze, but they have a better job and hide it more easily. Or they bury themselves in work, and we call them hardworking. No one calls them a "bum". We call them good citizens. But what separates them from the person on the street who has decided they've had enough?
I'm lucky. I've had seven years of post-secondary education. I was raised in a home and provided for in every way. I have no mental health issues. The chance of me ending up on the street is slim. But the chance of me throwing away my dreams and hopes and 'cashing in my chips', however we define that, is very real.
In some ways, I have been guilty of that this past year. I moved to Toronto to go to school and pursue my dream of making it as a writer. However, the two books I have written have languished, especially behind my incessant need to write my blog. (And the instant feedback and approval this writing produces)
I am so thankful for all of you who have read and encouraged me and challenged me. You have no idea how much it has meant. I credit you for getting me back on track. With that in mind however, I have realized this past month it is time to leap.
For the next month I will have little activity on this website, though I will try to keep you updated. This past week finished the proposal for my book, In Love With A Stranger. I'll be sending it out shortly. (30 pages...sigh)
At the end of July I will keep you posted on the status of my proposals and other articles that I will be sending out. I would love to hear from you and to hear how you're doing. Please don't be afraid to write. :)
My challenge to you is the one I present to myself. Whatever situation you're in, ask yourself if you have given up, if you are eking out a living. And if you are (remember that you can do this even if you are rich), ask yourself why. Why did you give up? What led to you giving up your dreams?
My prayer this week, and this month, is that you would remember that God loves you. That He likes you. He created you for a purpose and has given you the tools and and passion to make a difference in the world around you so that no matter what life you live, you will be ALIVE.
For me, the man on the street is my answer to my own question. I want to help him. I want to help others and encourage them in the struggles and trials of life. That is my dream.
You know, there are days I don't want to write, days that I think I will never be good enough, but it's time to leap. I'd love for you to join me.