Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Teddy and the Meteor

Last week, I was standing on a corner with B at a busy intersection on our way to dinner. Two remarkable things happened. First, we saw a meteor the size of a car shoot across the night sky; I had never seen one before. The second remarkable thing happened just moments later. I felt compassion for a homeless person.
He was a big teddy-bear of a guy with coke bottle glasses and a garbage bag full of who-knows-what slung over his shoulder. Let’s call him “Teddy.” Teddy’s once-white shirt was soiled with a slew of food, dirt and indiscernible stains. He had a big smile on his face. Teddy was a few feet behind B and I, next to a couple who had also seen the meteor a few moments before. We were all stopped at the crosswalk together. I turned around and said, “Wow! Did you guys see that?!”

“I like your legs,” Teddy said in a soft voice, out of nowhere.

“Thank you,” I said and then looked over at the couple for their response to my question. The woman raised her eyebrows and barely parted her lips to speak, before…

“Oooh your eyes are real pretty!” Teddy interjected, with a little more excitement in his voice this time.

“Thank you,” I said again, with a nod and a smile. I looked up at B and tried to change the subject back to the meteor. “Honey, I’ve never seen one of those before!”

“And you’re teeth are nice too,” added Teddy.

The crosswalk light beckoned with the illuminated little white man and I smiled again at Teddy before turning to walk away. He had a slight speech impediment and he rocked back and forth a little when he spoke. His eyes darted away every time he met your gaze and his chin glistened with saliva. He was likely mentally disabled. I had an urge to hug him or at least invite him to dinner.

As we crossed Lombard, Teddy shouted after us. “You’re hair is real pretty!”

I waved without turning around. “Thank you! Have a good night!”

I couldn’t help think about Teddy as we waited for our table in the busy restaurant nearby. I wondered what he would eat for dinner and with whom. I realized the assumption that he’d have dinner at all was naive. I felt sad for Teddy.

On the way home, we came across at least 2 more homeless people. We pass them every day everywhere in this city. Hands out, cardboard signs around the neck, their dogs tied to open guitar cases tied to parking meters. Shoeless feet with yellowed toenails on urine scented pavement. I rarely make eye contact and never give them a cent. I certainly don’t look long enough to feel compelled to open my heart the way I was instantly prepared to do with Teddy.

I am selectively compassionate. Which doesn’t really make me compassionate at all, I suppose. I determine whether or not a person deserves compassion based on their contribution to the problem and/or the solution. Teddy deserved compassion. It's not his fault that he's homeless. And as for the guy on the next block that smells of whiskey but says he wants my money for food? I assume it's his own fault. I assume he “makes his bed” through drug-abuse or alcoholism and is forced to lie in it because he's lazy or doesn't have the determination to pull himself out of the gutter. I pass judgment on a few pages of a story I can't even begin to understand. Whose fault is that? As much as he loves me, even Teddy would tell you it's mine.

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