15: Perspective

15: Perspective

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Perspective

No life is so hard that you can’t make it easier by the way you take it.

~Ellen Glasgow

Dyan is one of those down-and-out people wandering the street with her stolen shopping cart from Safeway stuffed with everything she owns. I’ve always steered clear of the homeless — I never could understand why they chose to walk the streets day and night instead of living in a nice warm home.

I used to sniff haughtily, “I have a home, I am in school, and I have a marvelous family. Really, why should I care about these people?”

My husband would correct me. “Some of those people have lost their own homes and their own livelihood, sometimes even their own families, and they have nowhere to go.” I’m ashamed to admit that after listening to him I felt only a little less disgusted.

Then my husband lost his job. One day we had a good income and I was getting my B.A. in psychology and the next we had absolutely nothing. He had been laid off four years before and we used up all our savings and then had to resort to bankruptcy. So this time when he lost his job we had nothing to fall back on, and in this financial climate he couldn’t get anywhere near the paycheck he had been earning. He was able to do consulting work but we still had to pinch pennies and juggle the monthly bills. Thankfully our house and two cars were free and clear. We weren’t through paying off the bankruptcy, though, so my lawyer suggested selling our house and one of the two cars. I was terribly depressed and thought how much easier it would be if I just ended it, or like Dyan, became a homeless person everybody steered clear of, with a stolen shopping cart that contained every possession I owned.

In mid-December of that year my newly married daughter gave me $100 as an early Christmas present. It took all my fortitude to keep from crying in front of her. Once she left, I decided to drive down to our local Walgreens where I might be able to afford a few things that would make our house Christmassy, as well as some stocking stuffers. So I got in my car and turned the ignition. Nothing. My head fell between my hands that had been white-knuckling the steering wheel. “Oh God, please, no! We can’t afford to fix this car! What’s next?”

I was only thirty feet away from the bus stop when the 58 zoomed past. “That’s what’s next,” I sniveled. I sat down on the wooden bench to wait the twenty minutes for the next bus. I put my heavy purse that contained the $100 down on the bench beside me.

The air was fragrant, for behind me was a group of mugo pines huddled together in the front yard of the house unlucky to be just behind an ugly bus stop. Suddenly, a shadow blocked the weak sun, while dirty clothes and stale body odor assailed my nose.

“Anybody sitting here?”

I looked up. Oh gosh, it was the stolen cart lady. In answer, I picked up my purse and held it tightly against my stomach.

She pushed her shopping cart to the side of the bench and sat with a sigh. “My, it feels so good to sit.”

I leaned as far away from her as I could.

She rested her head against the back of the bench. “Feel that sun?”

My forehead wrinkled. “What sun?”

“Even the warmth of this pretty feeble sun feels so welcome when the temperature’s fallen to just above freezing every night since October.”

I was dumbfounded. She sounded so well educated. A nod was my own educated reply.

I finally looked at her and she at me.

“Why are you so dejected?”

I broke eye contact and pulled myself up. “Why would you think that?”

“I’ve never seen such a hangdog expression, complete with red nose, pale face, taut lips and bloodshot eyes.” She leaned forward. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

Now a homeless lady was concerned about me. In minutes I had sunk below this woman. How embarrassed I was! Nevertheless, I lost my self-possession. My shoulders slumped and I covered my face. Though I didn’t intend to, I began to weep, “What’s happening to me?”

“Money troubles?”

I nodded unwillingly. “Our bankruptcy lawyer recommended that we sell our house.”

I looked down at her reddened, rough hand as it cupped mine. “There are worse things than losing a house.”

“Worse things? How could things be worse?”

“You could lose your husband.”

I swiped at my face. “Lose what?”

She gazed across the street. “In 2005 my husband and I had just gotten excellent jobs. Together our salaries came close to $200,000 a year. We lived in Chico and moved into a gigantic house that we could just barely afford. That same year, he lost his job and a short time later, so did I. So of course we lost our house and we had to move into a cramped rental. We argued every day. Our marriage dissolved when he got another job and took up with his secretary.” She glanced down at her hands. “One day, after doing my grocery shopping, I couldn’t get into my own house. I went from window to window looking for a way in. When I got back to the front porch, two bags stuffed with my giveaway clothes were waiting for me. I never saw the inside of my house again.

“I stayed with my girlfriend who was separated from her husband but when he moved back in I was asked to leave. Where could I go? I had $200 in my purse and no access to our credit cards or our joint bank account. My parents live in the East and they would have helped me, but I was so embarrassed I couldn’t tell them that I had lost everything. So I begged a ride from two drivers and found myself here.” She sighed. “That was almost seven years ago.” She suddenly smiled. “But I don’t have any bills to pay and no responsibilities. I’m free as a bird. Just haven’t any wings.”

I was embarrassed that I had been blubbering and complaining to a homeless person. Her story made mine pale in comparison.

“Why don’t you look for a job?”

She gestured down her body. “Would you hire someone like this?”

I didn’t know how to answer that so I remained mum.

The bus came and as I stood I said to her, “You can stay with us. We have room. That is, until we sell the house.” I couldn’t believe how dispassionate about selling the house I was. “We’re at 5600 Coleman.”

“Thanks. But I like being free. It’s just the cold that I don’t like.” And with that she also stood and reached for her shopping cart. “See you around, Mrs . . .?”

“Buckman.”

“I’m Dyan, just Dyan.”

On the bus, as Dyan receded into the background, I turned back around and smiled — a house is just a house after all. I felt happier than I had in days.

~L.R. Buckman

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