There is a homeless man, who sleeps near a drinking fountain next to the walking path along PCH. He’s in the same spot every day. He lays out next to his bike child carrier trailer, which holds what I believe is everything he owns. His skin looks like dark brown leather, worn from his time in the sun. His blond, wavy hair hangs down his back and his beard is almost as long. Even on record heat days, he wears long green pants and a sweatshirt. He wears socks and no shoes.
How do I know this? Because I pass him almost every day on my midday walk. It’s the turnaround point where Tucker (my dog) gets a drink before heading home. Usually when we stop, I can smell the urine and body odor. I look the other way, busy with the water fountain and then rushing to be back on our way.
The past few months I’ve wondered where else he goes because I’ve only seen him there. He doesn’t panhandle, there are no cardboard signs asking for help or money. He doesn’t stare at you, try to engage in conversation or yell at any voices in his head. He just sleeps…yet, does he sleep there overnight? Where and how does he get food? Does he even eat, or does he subsist on the water at the fountain?
These are the thoughts that have gone through my head. Yet, I’ve never stopped to ask him if he needs anything. I’ve never tried to look directly at him when I was within 50 feet. Purposely looking out over the ocean or at my dog and other people. What makes me avoid eye contact? What do I not want to see up close? Why?
As a life coach, we need to examine our thoughts and our underlying motivations. I’ll admit that this was an area I didn’t want to self-coach on…which is exactly why I needed to.
In my self-inquiry, I learned that if I see him, if I really look at him, then he becomes a person. He becomes a face and eyes that belong to a soul. He becomes someone I can’t ignore and pass. He becomes someone I am compassionate for.
So I did something today I’m ashamed to say I’ve never done before. I drove to McDonalds and got the largest meal on the menu, extra-sized it and took it to the beach. Even though it was 5 p.m., he was still there in his usual spot sleeping. As I walked closer to him, I wondered what I would and should say.
“You look hungry, do you want this food?” didn’t feel right. “Excuse me, are you hungry?” seemed awkward and cliche.
I’m someone who normally doesn’t have a problem talking to anyone and as an extrovert, I don’t usually get nervous. Yet, I was nervous offering him food.
Again, I went to self-inquiry. “What am I making that mean?” I asked myself.
The response I got was, “What if he wants to talk to me? What if I have to sit down with him and have a conversation? What would we talk about? What does one ask a man with no home, no shelter from the elements? It’s certainly not ‘How’s the weather? Did you catch the football game last night?'”
I grounded myself by stopping and taking a couple deep breaths. I assured myself that I would know what to do and how to respond if I stayed present.
When I was a couple feet away, I looked at his face for the first time and really saw it. He had a bulbous nose and his beard had an orange tinge to the ends of his white hair.
“Excuse me, sir?” I said.
No response. Still asleep.
“Sir?” I repeated. “Excuse me, sir?”
Still nothing. I walked to a few feet in front of his face.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said again more loudly.
His dark, deep blue eyes opened and he abruptly sat up and faced me. His eyes were so blue, darker than I’d seen before.
“I’ve noticed you’re here every day and thought you might be hungry,” I said. “Here.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” he responded while quickly grabbing the bag and soft drink from my hands.
He set them both in front of him and stared at them, as if he wasn’t quite awake yet or maybe he thought he was dreaming. His attention was on the food, not me, so I backed away and gently said, “Be well.”
When I looked back over my shoulder, he was sucking down the soda like a man in the desert. I walked a bit farther and looked back again. He had opened the bag and was pulling out its contents. I didn’t look back a third time. I didn’t need to.
As I returned home, I smiled to myself. Of course my mind would make the experience out to be more daunting than it realistically was. Now that I’ve looked in his eyes, he is more than the homeless guy who sleeps on the beach. He’s not scary or someone to avoid. He’s just living one day at a time, like the rest of us.
There will be no pictures with this story. Taking photos of, or with, this man felt inappropriate and disrespectful. Thank you for your understanding.