I work downtown, so I see and interact with homeless people often. Three men in particular stood out to me this week. There was one wearing a virtual reality headset, another loaded down on a bicycle like a pack-mule, and a beggar named Timmy.
Each taught me something about desperate times. We can all agree homelessness is one of the more extreme forms of desperation. It draws out our survival nature. It forces the hand to do things one might never do in normal circumstances. In our own desperation, we see these three characters emerge.
There are few things that surprise me these days, though I had to do a double-take when I saw a VR headset on a homeless man.
I think VR headsets are brilliant technology, useful, and entertaining. This image makes a great point, though: when times get tough, we want to escape.
Binge watching Netflix. Incessant scrolling through social media. Drugs. Excessive alcohol. Anything to take the edge off or separate us from being present in reality.
The second man had a small home's worth of items precariously attached to his body and bicycle. In an attempt to survive or be prepared for life on the street, he had kept and acquired anything and everything he could get.
We do the same. "Shopping therapy" is a real thing. Get more stuff. Have the latest gadget. Make more money. Rise through the ranks. Achieve. Work harder. Fill up your house. Get a bigger house. Anything to lull us into a false sense of security.
And then there's Timmy. He approached me as I was walking to my car one night. I've had plenty of people ask me for money, but Timmy had that starved look in him more so than others. I'm not talking just about food. I'm talking about craving that only exists at rock bottom.
His pitch was nearly incoherent. Something about being on the street and needing money. It was obvious he wasn't all there. I told him I didn't have cash but he could have the change in my car.
Timmy was a close-talker. You know, the kind of people that stand just close enough to make you notice they're standing too close. As I started to open the door he edged even closer. His desperation had dissolved any social norms.
I want to be compassionate, but I'm also not careless. I turned around and calmly but firmly told him he needed to back away from me. He quickly realized how he was being perceived and put his hands up in innocence. I gave him what little change I had, and he moved on to his next client.
When we are desperate we take. It's not just money. It's time, resources, energy, love, innocence. We push the bounds of what a healthy person would do. We stand too close and rush at the opening car door of opportunity. We become codependent and manipulative. Anything to instantly gratify our needs.
These three characters exist in the survivalist nature of all of us. I've seen the Escapist, the Hoarder, and the Taker try to control my life. They're dark passengers living inside of us, masquerading as helpers but subtly draining our life out. They'll keep you alive a little longer, but they won't help you thrive.
There is another character, though, and he spoke to each of the three I've described. He said,
"Come find rest. Blessed are those who mourn. Don't store up treasures on earth. Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. The first will be last, and the last will be first. Giving is better than getting. To die is to live. When I leave, I'm still with you, in you, empowering you. And though you may feel the pull of desperation's characters, there is a day coming when all will be restored."
Books I recommend: