75: Riding Home

75: Riding Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Riding Home

People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.

~Sheila McKechnie

On the way home. The train’s gentle rocking is slowly lulling me into a sleepy haze, despite the fact that I am standing with what feels like a building in the bag on my back. I turn slightly to alleviate some of the pain in my shoulder and see the door opening at the end of the car.

An obviously homeless man slouches through the sliding door, bringing with him the reek of stale urine and unwashed skin. He’s dressed in a heavy, decrepit coat dotted with stains, ripped jeans, and mismatched flip-flops (despite the fifteen-degree weather on the streets above) that reveal sore-laden feet and black toenails. Behind him he drags a bag that looks thirty times as heavy as mine, filled to the brim with a plethora of odds and ends.

He shuffles down the length of the car slowly, asking for spare change in the polite, experienced voice of a person who has done this before. I glance down as I do a quick check of my pockets, hoping for spare change to give him that won’t leave me bankrupt for the remainder of the week. I come up empty and lift my head just as his path crosses mine. Shrugging apologetically, I tell him I have no change, expecting him to move through the door next to me and continue on to subsequent cars.

Instead he stands and stares at me, saying something quietly.

As I strain to hear, I realize he is asking me to take him home... and love him.

Suddenly money doesn’t matter to this man who lives in poverty, without even enough money to purchase socks to stave off the chill. He wants love. Not food, not clothes, not even a blanket. Just affection.

I feel worse than I did about finding empty pockets on my person. The man in front of me wrinkles my nose with his smell, is standing too close, has only the bag with him, and none of it matters. I wonder why he can’t have love like everyone else.

He tells me I’m beautiful and begs me to take him home with me. My heart cracks and I can’t even think of the proper words to say besides “I can’t, I’m sorry.”

His face crumples and he asks me, “What’s wrong with me?” The answer is on my lips before I realize that it’s true.

I let him know that I’m not good enough for him.

Long after the man has left the train and I have found my way home, I think about the answer I gave him and wonder why it felt so right to say. I realize that I wouldn’t have requested love over money or food... the fact that he could appreciate something so simple and intangible is more than I ever could have expected of myself.

He taught me the power of love without even meaning to.

~Myla Seabrook

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