It’s hard to not be a cynic in today’s society. Almost everyone we meet seems to have a gimmick. We live in a world full of people who are motivated by what they can do for themselves rather than what they can do for others. Most of us spend our days replaying the last. We wake up, go to work, come home, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. We come into contact with so many different people every day, but unless they are a coworker or the barista handing you your Tall Skim Chai, we rarely interact with those we coexist with.
Think about it. The herd of people you are walking in a group with to catch the next metro ride. The lady you accidentally elbow when the train jolts and thrusts your body forward. The homeless man you pass every single morning because he is always in the same spot. The daily musician who sets up on a street corner. The old man and his dog who sit on a window sill outside of a Gelato shop feeding the pigeons every single Friday morning. The list of people we pass every day is endless.
We all have one thing in common: We all have a story. Every single person you pass has a story.
I have been wanting to write about Lorne for quite a while now. I wasn’t sure where to begin so I decided I would just get to know him more. In doing so, I have made it a point to stop and take a moment to ask others their story. This is what I have found…
Lorne is a homeless man that I pass almost every day of the week. I have been working in DC for seven months now and there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t pass Lorne. He has a small plastic “Milk Crate” that he sits on, a small backpack, and the clothes on his back. The first couple of weeks I just walked right by without making eye contact. I had a plethora of reasons for why I kept walking:
- It was January so it was freezing and I still had three blocks to walk. I just wanted to get inside where it was warm.
- I was always “running late.” Late for me is showing up five minutes early.
- I had a morning ritual of getting my Chai from Starbucks. If I stopped, I would have to skip Starbucks. Gasp!!
- He was homeless. Of course he had to be a scam artist or just a bum who didn’t want to work for a living like I do (I was drowning in cynicism).
- I was scared of the unknown. If I gave that man the time of day, would he rob me? Would he be crazy? Blah. Blah. Blah.
It was a particularly bitter morning in January. It had snowed enough the day before to make the streets slippery with cold slush and had turned into a cold, hard rain overnight that carried through to my morning commute. Lorne always says “Good Morning” and “Have a Nice Day” to every person that walks past. As I approached him, he looked up and said, “Good Morning, Ma’am.” He was shivering, wet, and had his hands shoved in his pockets for warmth. Yet, he was still pleasant. He still had a smile on his face. Mind you, I was miserable. I was grouchy and grudgingly walking with my umbrella just counting the steps before I would be indoors. I replied with a “Good Morning” of my own and continued to walk into Starbucks.
As I stood in line, it hit me that I really had no reason to be grouchy. I could afford a hot Chai when I wanted one and I had a warm office to work in… I had a roof over my head at night and three hot meals a day. That was the first day I bought Lorne a coffee. I handed it to him and he said, “Thank you, Ma’am.” I went about my day.
As the months passed, I slowly started engaging more with Lorne. I would ask him how he was doing and he would always tell me that he is doing “just fine” and ask me how I was. I noticed that I wasn’t the only person who would stop and talk with Lorne. In fact, Lorne had a few “regulars” that would stop and chat with him. Some would put money in his cup, others would drop off food. It became second nature for me to give Lorne a few moments of my morning each day.
One morning, he handed me a “business card.” It had his name and number on it with the caption, “I Need a Job!” in Bold. My initial reaction was, “Uugghhh seriously?! This guy is a total scam! What homeless person can afford business cards and a cellphone?!”
So I asked him. He explained to me that one of the “regular” businessmen that stops to talk with him offered to make up some basic “business cards” for Lorne to pass out in the hopes that it would help him get a job. He then told me that his cellphone is pre-paid and that he takes the money that people give him and puts it towards minutes for his phone. He also buys personals like toothpaste and deodorant because he knows he needs to be presentable if he wants to get a job. He told me that he stays in shelters most nights and that he is willing to do any kind of work.
I was stunned. This was a homeless man that really just wanted to work. He wanted to better his life. He has no degree and very limited education. I can tell you that after speaking with this man for several months, I have a feeling that he may have a very high functioning form of Autism. He is probably close to 65 years old. 65 years ago, Autism wasn’t something that was understood or talked about… This man has probably gone most of his life misunderstood and he has struggled to make a life for himself.
About a month ago, I stopped seeing Lorne. He wasn’t in his usual spot and I began to worry. I saw him for the first time last Thursday. I stopped and asked him where he had been. He told me that the business cards worked. Someone passed his card onto a restaurant and they hired him as a dishwasher three nights a week. They give him a hot meal and he is making minimum wage. On the nights that he works, he is unable to get to the shelter on time, so he spends those nights on the street. He told me he is thankful and happy, but that he still needs more work. So the days he isn’t at the restaurant, he is in his usual spot. He is still pleasant and wishes everyone that passes him a Good Morning and a Good Day. He told me he will make it off the streets for good one day. I told him I believe him and to never stop working for what he wants.
My experience with Lorne has prompted me to slow down more. I have learned a lot about people over the last several months:
- The little old man (who feeds the pigeons) and his dog: Friday’s were always “Date Day” for him and his wife. They spent Friday’s doing all sorts of things, but the morning was spent walking with their dog and “watching the world change.” His wife passed away three years ago but he still spends his Friday mornings taking a long walk with the dog. He told me he has to keep up with all of the changes so that he can fill his wife in when he see her again. #AllTheFeels
- The older gentleman who plays the saxophone outside of one of my metro stops. He is there once a month. Unlike most of the street musicians, he doesn’t have a “Tip Jar.” One morning, I stood there and listened to him play an entire song. It is no secret that I love the Blues and Jazz. When he finished the song, I told him it was beautiful. I asked why he didn’t have a jar for tips. He said, “The only form of payment I really need is the smile on your face and the company of those that decide to stop and enjoy the music with me.” #MusicIsLove
We all have a story. This world would be a much better place if we just stopped to listen more. In a world that is so filled with hate and violence, it is important to seek out the good. Because there really is so much good out there. You just have to be willing to find it.
So the next time you go out to eat and don’t finish your meal, ask for a to-go box. Instead of taking it home, give it to one of the homeless you may see sitting on the sidewalk. You don’t have to give money… A hot meal goes a long way. The next time you see a street musician, stop and listen. Maybe toss a dollar in the guitar case or simply tell them “Thank You” for the music. If you go for a walk in the park and see an elderly woman or man sitting alone on a bench, sit next to them and ask them about their day. You may even learn something.
We all have a story. What’s yours?
P.S. I chose to redact Lorne’s personal information because as much as I wish there weren’t cruel people in this world, there are. And Lorne doesn’t need any pranksters calling his phone. However, if you read this and are in the DC area and think you can help Lorne, email me (in my About/Contact Section) and we can talk.