On a typical workday, I walked to Dollar Tree to get a drink and a snack. As I got closer to the store, I noticed the homeless man sitting outside. He had his face buried in his arms. Beside him is his backpack with his sign sitting on top. The same sign I see him hold every day as he stands at the end of the parking lot. Many other customers walking in and out also noticed him but ignored him. I did the same thing.
It was a short and easy trip for me as I always get the same snack and drink. As I wait in the long line, before I knew it, I went back to get two Texas cinnamon rolls and another cold cherry coke. Exiting the door, I saw that he was no longer burying his face but looking down on the sidewalk as if he was lost and hopeless. I stopped in front of him and silently handed him the cherry coke. He looked up without saying a word, but I did not look at him. Then I gave him a cinnamon roll. He took it while still looking at me, yet, I was not looking at him. Finally, I hand him the last cinnamon roll this time. This time I looked him in the eyes. He looked like he had been crying for a while. A sudden rush of sympathy and fear flows through my body cells.
Without saying a single word to one another, I begin to walk back to my workplace, but it wasn’t too far when I heard the sound of the can opening. It’s not the first time I had encounters with homeless people. I used to volunteer for many nonprofit organizations during my undergraduate years to keep one of my scholarships. I participated in coat drives or at a soup kitchen to serve homeless people. I was in the middle of downtown Raleigh where there were days when I see homeless people sitting around. I did what I always did: to continue walking while pretending that I did not see them. If they approach me, I just kindly smile and respond before walking away without feeling anything.
As I walked back into my work, I greeted my two coworkers, asking me what I bought. I jokingly reply, a whole cow, and we laughed before I told them I just got a can of soda and a rice krispy. They laughed and said I acted like our customers who always needed a bag for a tiny item. I acted cool, making an excuse saying that I did not want to carry the cold drink with my bare hands. All the time, I was questioning why I did it. Why did I give the homeless man a drink and snacks? What made me do it, and what were those feelings?
I can understand feeling sympathy for the man, but deep down, I know the truth. I will never understand the man’s feelings and the thoughts that he is going through daily. However, why did I feel a sudden rush of fear as I walk away? And, the that cold sweat trickled down underneath my black cotton shirt, what did that mean? It was not like he held me captive for my money or stared at me with hatred, yet the fear and adrenaline flow through my body. At the same time, it was not the type of fear that would make me run for my life as if I was in danger. It was a different type of fear–one I cannot explain.