I live just off of a major thoroughfare, several actually. Occasionally, one of the homeless people that live under the overpass will stroll through the neighborhood. There is a dead end street, about a block from here, with a few good places to “live,” so we see them often. Never have any trouble and they are rather like neighborhood folk, they just live outdoors. If you live in a city, then you know these people. We do what we can, when we can; give to the soup kitchen, and help out in other ways, but it always tugs at my heart to see someone struggling.
Today, I was writing on my laptop in my warm and cozy home, drinking Starbucks coffee, listening to music, a life is good kind of day. I am jarred from editing the same sentence ten times by the sound of something crashing outside. It wasn’t a loud sound, more like something was dropped on the street beside my house. I live on the corner, so I hear all the street noise. It wasn’t the sound that made me stand up. It was the stream of screamed obscenities that followed it.
My dog jumped up beside me and we both listened, as a man yelled out one expletive after another, raving mad. I slipped to the back door and peeked out. I see an obviously homeless man righting one of the three wagons he has trained together. He is so caught up in his raving that he doesn’t notice when my dog pushes out the door. Buddy, my male dog that would eat someone before he would let them near me, growled low and then pushed back in the house. No barking, just a whine, like, “Mom, that man is all kinds of crazy.” I agreed.
Part of me wanted to ask if he needed help, and before all of you write in about what a heartless person I am for not doing so, this guy was on another planet, completely lost in his rage. I am alone at home with a dog that thinks it’s better if we just let the man be. His ranting went on for fifteen minutes, while he tore through every bag he had neatly packed into his wagons. I know, because I stood in the bedroom and peered through the blinds.
My heart was breaking for this man and I took a step toward the door several times, but his demeanor was quite frankly very scary. I also thought about calling the police, but then he was just in the street, voicing his displeasure loudly. Was that against the law? Hell, I’ve had a bad day and cursed the Gods, so why was he any different. Granted, my outbursts were usually alone in the car, with no one to hear my rant. But then, I had a car to rant in. This guy had three wagons.
When I thought he may have been having a genuine meltdown, and was possibly in need of immediate mental health intervention, he found what he was searching the bags for. He stopped ranting immediately, and then knelt down on the road by the wagon that had fallen over. That’s when I saw the source of his rage and I my heart ached for him.
Ever so gently, he lifted a radio from the street. It was a little red plastic boom box and obviously his most precious possession. It had fallen, breaking the door to the battery enclosure and the casing was cracked off one end. I watched as he tore strips of tape and tenderly repaired his treasure. That radio was his connection to the world and his world was in chaos for the time it was in disrepair, but as he lovingly reassembled it, I saw his demeanor change. When he turned it on and I heard music begin to play, I rejoiced with him, as his shoulders straightened out of their slump and his spine grew erect. A defeated man turned victorious, it was a sight to behold.
I watched as he reloaded his wagons, smiling now, and then moved on his way. I was struck by the magnitude of loss, when it is put in perspective. A devastation to one may be a mere inconvenience to another. A broken radio might not seem like the end of the world to most of us, but to this man, it was his world. Watching him walk away with a smile on his face and a spring in his step – well, I was smiling too. He was victorious over fate today, and though he lost his mind there for a bit, he recovered and saved his precious possession. Two lessons learned: 1. The loss of something trivial to one could be a life altering devastation to another. Respect that. 2. When things look the bleakest, a little rant may help, but always carry duct tape in your wagon. It can mend a broken heart.