On Friday night, my boyfriend Tyler and I met up with some friends of ours in Federal Hill for a drink or two.
We hit the usual spots, paying the jukebox at No Way Jose to play our favorite songs, eating pizza at PubDog and making our way home in the early morning hours with the rest of the Baltimore bar-goers.
As usual, college students littered the streets, staggering under the influence of their vodka red bulls. But among them, stooping under deserted doorways or crouched in between buildings are the ones that nobody truly sees.
I grew up in Baltimore and have often witnessed the not-so-thin line between the haves and the have not's. On any given night, walking home from dinner at a nearby restaurant or from happy hour with a friend, it's probably more common than not to pass by the homeless, the suffering, the mentally ill.
I don't always give them money, mostly because since I left the restaurant business, I no longer regularly carry cash. I'm more likely to give them the snacks I sometimes squirrel away in my purse earlier in the day or even an article of clothing I could go without, on Saturday my boyfriend talked me out of giving a homeless man the women's wool socks I had stashed in my car over the weekend.
But regardless of all of that, regardless, every.single.time I pass them on the street, my heart hurts, aches, for those who spend their days on the streets, begging for food, depending on the kindness and compassion of others.
And as I made my way home on Friday evening after a night of fun, I was struck by how rare a quality compassion is these days.
There's a man, if you've ever been out on a weekend night on East Cross Street in Federal Hill, chances are, you've seen him. He shows clear signs of mental illness, he's usually muttering to himself or yelling profanities randomly at passerby's. He sits crouched in the doorway of what used to be a retail storefront, but is now an empty brick shell with a cup of change he holds out in front of him, jingling its meager contents rhythmically. His hair is matted to his head, his teeth are yellowed, blackened or missing, he wears a tattered hat and over-sized jacket. The sight of him is enough to make most people cross to the other side of the street before they even reach him.
I'm not trying to talk myself up here, there are days when I judge him, or when I don't feel like dealing with him or when I have nothing to give. There have been days when I've stepped to the other side of the street to avoid him, or when I've wondered what life choices he made that landed him there.
Because after all, I am so blessed. I have a loving, caring family that supports me (and a loving, caring extended family that I know would do the same). I have an education. I have a good-paying job in my career field. I have wonderful friends and an amazing boyfriend. I would never be that homeless person probably no matter how many bad choices I made because there would always be someone there to catch me in the end. And sometimes, even I, feel sorry for myself. For the bills I have to pay, for the things I can't afford, for the people I've lost, the opportunities I didn't take, for the time I never seem to have enough of.
So when I see those people, begging on the side of the road, my heart hurts and sometimes I even feel angry at a world that would allow such terrible things to happen in it.
So when I was walking home last Friday, and I saw someone do something to someone else, I lost my cool.
As Tyler and I were walking down East Cross Street, a man and his two friends were in front of us. Each of them were dressed in expensive suits, their hair gelled back, their dress shoes polished. And one of them was smoking a cigar. As I walked towards him, I watched as the homeless man on the street jingled his change jar and asked the man with the cigar for money.
The man made a show of pretending to go into his inside suit pocket for money, but instead flipped the lapels of his jacket up and shoved the label in the homeless man's face, as if to say "Do you see what I'm wearing?" I couldn't hear what he said, I didn't need to, his actions said it all. He then proceeded to blow smoke at the homeless man and laugh mockingly in his face.
My blood almost boiled over and as we passed, I said something to him that I don't even remember. Something that sounded a lot like "You f****** a**hole." He turned around and called me the female equivalent and if it weren't for my boyfriend and his friends, the situation may have even escalated.
Luckily, we quickly disentangled ourselves and made our way home.
As we neared the house, I found myself in tears. I can't explain to you the feeling I felt. Sadness and rage that someone who had so much, could turn around and mock someone with so little. I mean, I've always been a proponent of the under dog but this was on another level.
I wanted to run back and hug the homeless man, I wanted to offer him my bed for a night and my shower and the food I had in my fridge. I wanted to offer him my place at the thanksgiving table this year, after all my family's already a little off the wall themselves :) I wanted to offer him medical care, I wanted to offer him a job, I wanted to take back all the mean things people must have said to him when I wasn't around to hear it, I wanted to offer him basic human rights. But instead, I stood there and cried. I felt helpless.
My guess my point in all of this is that how you act around the less fortunate and how you treat them matters.
It matters because you never know their circumstances or who's watching, or what kind of good karma you might need to rely on later. To treat anyone as less than a person because of where they live, or what they wear, is unacceptable. Because no matter how fortunate you think you are, you're situation could always always be worse.
And sometimes its hard, because our first reaction is usually to judge. Our default reaction is usually to think about all the things we don't have, instead of being thankful and compassionate enough to let our judgments go and give what we have anyway.
This Thanksgiving, think of how fortunate you are before you judge those who are less so and imagine what it would be like to walk a day in their shoes.
Each of us deserves love, compassion and respect.