There is More to His Story

When I was a writer in South Texas, one of my first assignments was to accompany students at Fort Worth to cover the International Science Fair. Each day, with my laptop, slung over my shoulder, I walked to the convention center to observe and interact with the students to write about their reactions to being a part of an international event. As I walked by the park near the convention center, I noticed a homeless man lying on a bench. I couldn’t help but gaze longer than I should, and feel a need to sit down next to him and talk.

When I was a writer in South Texas, one of my first assignments was to accompany students at Fort Worth to cover the International Science Fair. Each day, with my laptop, slung over my shoulder, I walked to the convention center to observe and interact with the students to write about their reactions to being a part of an international...Just like everyone else, I sometimes reject the idea that pain like this exists beyond the comforts of my home. I wanted to write a story about this homeless man, but I felt that it was a selfish reason to invade his privacy. And truth is, I just didn’t have the nerve to walk up to him and say the first word. After a week of writing stories and following students around, I hesitated as I took one of my final walks to the center. There he was, with his dark gray coat and a plaid blanket wrapped around him, stringy hair, and a dirty, disheveled look leaning back on the bench. I knew to be careful, but the park was very open with people sitting all around. As I approached, I said hello, but received no response. What could he possibly have to say to me? I asked him how he was doing, which was ridiculous, as I could see his situation. Finally, I decided to sit on the bench beside him, and even though the stench and the flies that surrounded him was near unbearable, I let my sleeve touch him, so he would know his condition did not repulse me. I asked him his name. He said it was Clifford. He said he had been living on the streets for 15 years. I told him that I passed this way every day for a week and noticed he was always here.

My next question was careful because I understood it was intrusive. I asked him why he lived on the streets instead of in a home with a family. He said he had no family. Even though he would not look at me, I knew he would talk to me, so I relaxed. He told me that he worked for a factory in Ft. Worth. I forget the name. He said it closed down and he lost his job. When he came home and told his wife, she left him, took his children, and after that, he lost everything. “I’ve been here ever since,” he said. I wanted to know why he just quit. Families break up all the time. People lose their homes and jobs, but they don’t just quit.

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I noticed the discoloration in his feet through his ragged shoes and asked to see his feet. He did, and I could see gangrene had set in. I suggested he go to the hospital, but I could see our conversation was over. The only response I got after that was when I asked him what he would like for me to buy him to eat. He told me he liked Vienna sausages and coke, so I walked to the nearest store and bought him a bag full of what he requested, along with other things that I thought would help.

I told Clifford I was a writer and asked to write about our conversation. Glancing at my camera, he said that was OK, but I could not take a picture. The next day I came by the park with a bag of food, but Clifford was gone. There was a Street Dance scheduled in the park, and a policeman told me they had taken him to a hospital.

When I came home, I turned in all my stories, except for the one I couldn’t write. It was the story of a man who had lost hope. I told a friend about Clifford. He asked me why I didn’t write the story. My response was that there was no good ending. There were no words of wisdom that I could impart as a result of the encounter. But we know there are a lot of stories without happy endings. There is much pain we can’t see, such as the person who feels hopeless in their hearts.

I see homeless people a lot. I always notice it. I think about why they won’t ask for help or go to the shelters, and I wonder what happened to Clifford. I know we can’t fix all the pain we come in contact with every day. One thing is for sure, though, before we can help anyone, regardless of what age they are or what kind of pain they are facing in their lives, we have to be willing to listen. It doesn’t matter if we have all the answers; everyone deserves the dignity of being heard.

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Deana Landers
Author for Morningcoffeebeans.com

Deana Landers has had many roles in life — Pastor’s Wife , Nurse/Health Educator, Writer and Motivational Speaker ... more