8/22/2012- 40 minutes
Flashback: Winter 2009.
Sitting in Qdoba always reminds me of the moment where my ex, Irma*, and I realized we were in love, but wouldn’t admit it to each other, thanks to a homeless man. We sat by the window, eating our chips and guacamole and watching the snow fall outside. We sat next to each other, like so many people do during the honeymoon phase of relationships, and happily got lost in the mediocre music and people watching surrounding us.
A homeless man came up to us and asked if we could help him text his wife, that he lost his glasses and it was hard for him to see the buttons. I felt for him as he explained he was worried about her because it was so cold outside, and he didn’t want her to freeze, that he wanted to tell her to meet him at Qdoba. I helped him write his message, and he thanked me profusely, saying that I had a good heart. He ordered a burrito and sat by the window a few tables away from us. Irma said I was too nice, that he was probably going to ask me for money next, and that he should just get a job. I retorted that sometimes those who are less fortunate just need a smile and a helping hand, that they aren’t always looking for handouts. Her caramel eyes smiled and I distinctly remember being told, “You’re too nice for your own good.” I blushed, still a bit uncertain and nervous of PDA with another woman, not sure of what the reaction may be from the people around us.
As we continued eating, the homeless man walked over to us, his blue eyes twinkling and a huge grin spreading across his face. “I won’t bother you two again, I promise, but I just wanted to say…. it’s so beautiful how in love you two are. You have something special. Don’t lose each other.” We both blushed and looked down at our food, unsure of what to say. I really loved her, but I hadn’t told her yet…but I didn’t want a homeless man to beat me to the punch. “I, erm, uhhh…we’ve only been together a few months,” I mumbled, not looking up at the man or Irma. “That doesn’t matter! I can tell you two are so in love… you care for each other so much! It’s beautiful! You love her, don’t you?” he said, turning his direction to Irma. “Like she said, we, uh, have only been dating a few months. I love spending time with her, and she’s a beautiful, great girl, but, uhh…” she stumbled, her voice trailing off. The homeless man laughed, saying, “You two are so young and so beautiful together. Even if you don’t know it, you love each other. It’s beautiful.” He winked at us and walked away, leaving us at our table and staring down at our chips. That moment with the homeless man was probably one of the most romantic moments of my life.
*name obviously changed.
Maybe it’s my subconscious interacting with memories of the Qdoba incident, or maybe it was the emotionally charged, beautiful post from Six Year Itch I read the other night, but whatever it may be, but yesterday morning, fate told me to not stop for coffee on my way to Student Teacher Orientation at my usual coffee spot by my house. Instead, I waited until I got to the poverty-stricken town I’ll be working in.
I parked my car, fed the meter, crossed the street, and caught the eye of a man I’ll call Sal. Now, as terrible as it sounds, after four years of completing my undergrad in a city filled with homeless individuals and beggars, I’ve learned to look the other way. I can tell when someone is a junkie looking for money for a fix versus when someone is genuinely asking for food money. I’ve learned to look the other way when I encounter those less fortunate than me not because I want to ignore them, but because I’m a student and don’t have enough money to help all of them.
When Sal’s eyes met mine, I was overcome with emotions. They were so filled with exhaustion, sadness, and despair that I immediately felt for him. Sal gave off a vibe that I can’t quite explain, but I knew he was just down on his luck. “Excuse me, miss, if you have an extra dollar, could please get me a small coffee?” he asked, looking as if he expected me to ignore his existence. I don’t know what came over me, but, without a second thought, I asked him how he wanted it. “Wh-what? Uhh… Just black! I don’t need anything fancy. Wow. Thank you so much, I just need a little something, anything in my stomach,” Sal stuttered, appearing to be in disbelief.
I went inside, ordered my own veggie flatbread and iced latte, and then, on another whim, ordered him a sausage, egg, and cheese combo. I figured he could use some extra protein. When I walked back out and handed him his bad of food and a large coffee, he got teary eyed and thanked me, saying, “Thank you so much, miss. Most people wouldn’t have given me the time of day, but you went beyond anything…you have a good heart. God bless ya!” I was overwhelmed with emotions by his genuine gratitude and wished him luck and told him to have a good day. “It’s already good, I’m going to have some food in my stomach!” he responded.
Two well-dressed women in suits had been watching our encounter, and they came after me, asking if I had found faith. I told them I had, and to have a great day. Sometimes you just have to have a little faith in doing the right thing.
I am a privileged white woman. I’ve never been without a roof over my head or food in my stomach. My parents are educated individuals, and I am a college-educated woman pursuing a Masters Degree in Education. I have abundant opportunities in life, and for that I am extremely grateful. I’m even more grateful for the opportunity to be able to student teach in an urban district where 2/3 of the students have free or reduced lunch, where there are over 30 languages spoken at the homes of students, and where students are genuinely excited to be at school. My district even has a specific day of the week where students come to school with backpacks so that they can bring food home to their families, or they might go all weekend without eating. The backgrounds my students will be coming from may not be something I can even begin to understand completely, but one thing I do understand is compassion and a desire to reach one’s fullest potential. I cannot wait to begin making a difference in the lives of my students.