Hey you there, yeah you, the well-dressed one, the guy weighed down with money and plastic and bills and a family. No, you don’t know me, although you may think you do. Certainly you’ve seen me, even stepped over me with disgust on the sidewalk. No no no, don’t get defensive, it’s okay, I don’t blame you. I disgust myself. But don’t worry, I won’t attack you or ask you for money, at least not for today, and I’ll be sure to stand downwind and keep my stink to myself.
I have a message for you, a message from me and others like me, the homeless ones, the winos and the junkies and the whores and all the other derelicts that blow around and settle in the streets and lodge in the cracks of the sidewalk. We know you can’t stand us, that you’d be terrified should we ever show up in your neighborhood. And I don’t blame you…you should be afraid of us, you have every right to be. Some of us will most definitely stab you for your wallet and not think twice about it. So we understand it that you wish we’d just disappear, hoping the police would come and drag us all away and out of your sight. So yeah, we even understand it that, when someone speaks up for us, trying to appeal to your sense of compassion, you ask why should you feel compassion for us, saying the reason why we’re where we are is that we chose to be. Now, we know very well that you have to say that so you can remain self-satisfied with your life, unencumbered by that incredible weight of guilt you’d feel for having kicked us around and looked the other way for so long. Especially the guilt you’d be in danger of feeling after church on Sunday. That would put a chill on that warm moral glow you feel after getting your spiritual ticket punched.
And this message is for you liberals, too. Don’t get me wrong, we appreciate your good intentions and the righteous way you stand up for us when you argue the point with some conservative blockhead, but I don’t think you see us any better than the blockheads do.
We’re not a cause, or a flag you wave to proclaim your allegiance. You may pat yourself on the back for your enlightened beliefs, but it could still be you who gets knifed for his wallet, and all your noble thoughts will count for nothing.
But you’re probably wondering what my message is, right? Well, it’s this: that raggedy kid in the street breathing his last raggedy breath? That’s me. But it’s you, too. My breath is your breath, the blood draining from my side your blood. Oh yes. Though the odds are good you will be lucky enough to die under clean sheets in a warm bed with a roof over your head (yes, luck…there’s very little choice involved), and if you’re really lucky you will have your family around you, most assuredly die you will, just like me. And your breath will be just as raggedy, and when you go your bowels will empty and you will reek. And that’s if you’re really lucky. A lot of people just like you become invalids and crap themselves on a regular basis for months, sometimes years, before they die. Or their brothers. Or their mothers. Or their kids. So I mean it when I say that I hope you’re lucky enough to be spared all that. But there’s no escaping the fact that you will have to die, and your body will get just as nasty.
For most of us, this does not bring us joy. We don’t begrudge you your shiny car, your bread maker, your swimming pool. But what we really want, what we really hope for, is that when you’re in the restaurant and order so much more than you can eat, leave something for us on the plate when you walk away.