We welcomed our neighbors into our gallery space at lunchtime today for homemade soup and bread. Most of these neighbors have no street address, but they find their home in the nooks and crevices that line the avenues and alleys we traverse. Inviting these guests in brought some unusual surprises.
“Famished,” I sat down at 3pm for some leftover soup with a friend who had walked in a little late. I used to hear him say, “They never talk to me,” when I walked by his corner. Realizing I had let a human become a wall in my mind, I began interacting with him a few weeks ago. It started with a loaf of bread, but then it dawned on me that I could shake his hand, learn his name, have a conversation, even when I had nothing to give.
Seeing him in the gallery was a whole new experience. I became aware of the thick streety smell that rolled off of him, but also of the commanding presence of his lively eyes, heavy beard, and dapper green hat. I heard the British Isles in his voice and saw the tears break as he told a little of how he got here and how happy he would be if only he could have a simple apartment and somewhere to work.
I was glad that some coworkers were by my side who knew how to talk with him about what it would take to get him an I.D. again, and how to take his blood pressure. I was just thankful to sit for a moment with someone so real and raw and human as he. I hope that as I meet him and others like him, the fear I sometimes feel of not knowing how to love “the homeless” will fade in the face of a person not so unlike me.