She was sitting in one of her usual “spots” at the Encinitas, CA. library today, removed from view mostly, sitting near a window with a view of the Pacific Ocean to the west, surrounded by her plastic bags stuffed full of God knows what. She also had her backpack next to her and was busy stuffing wads of newspaper in it. For what reason, I don’t know. Honestly, it didn’t matter. All I know is I just wanted to talk with her.
She had just stood up when I walked up. I said, “Excuse me, may I have a moment of your time?” She glanced at me briefly, mumbled something, waved me off, and walked away, leaving her bags sitting there. As she turned, I said, “Ma’am? May I buy you something to drink?” She said nothing and kept walking. I decided not to push it. I didn’t know if she was embarrassed, intimidated, or what. So I left.
I’m not giving up. I’ll try again to find out what this homeless woman’s story is. But there are others I might get to know, many of whom hang out at the library during the day; “Moonlight Beach guy”, the man who camps out at the beach under a thatch palm with everything he owns, a backpack, a toothbrush hanging on a peg, and whatever food he’s acquired; another who wanders around talking to himself; and many many more.
Seeing these people makes me sad. I keep saying to myself, “Surely they must have some desire to better their lot in life.” Yet, at the same time, they seem resigned to their plight; quietly spending time sleeping in the comforts of the library, reading, and watching movies on the library computers. Where they go at night I have no idea.
It’s funny. When I first moved back to Southern California a little over a year ago, I immediately began noticing these people. They’re everywhere. The reason why I say its funny is because 30 years ago I never noticed them then, although I’m sure they were present. I suppose some of my own experiences in life, some of them tragic, makes me more AWARE these days. One time, shortly after moving here, a man approached me in a parking lot at a Wendy’s restaurant one night asking if I had any money for food. At first, I said no. After all, it was dark and I had NO idea what his true intentions were. Still, after getting in my vehicle, starting it up, and was about to leave, I stopped and looked at him. His gaze was fixed upon me. SOMETHING told me to turn off the ignition. I got out, walked up to him, and said, “What’s your name?” He took a step back and said, “Why?” He seemed scared. So, I extended my hand, told him my name, and said, “Where I come from, it’s considered customary and respectful to introduce ourselves when speaking to another human being in this way, even if it’s a stranger.”
He went on to say his name was David. I remarked that was my son’s middle name and also the first name of an uncle of mine on my mother’s side of the family, the same man who had been accidentally electrocuted and killed in 1972, only a few short months before my mother died. At that point, he seemed to relax and went on to tell me he had been looking for work for quite some time but the economy was so bad he didn’t have any success. He seemed remarkably intelligent for the brief amount of time we chatted. I asked him to walk into the Wendy’s restaurant with me, whereupon I gave him $5 and watched him order his food, just to make sure.
I’m not sure where to go from here though with the “bag lady.” Perhaps God has other plans for her other than me walking into her life, so I’ll let her be for now. In the meantime, I’ll keep moving forward and “Paying it Forward” wherever and whenever the moment seems appropriate. After all, I could one day be destitute and I would take great comfort if someone reached out their hand, asked me my name, and said, “May I buy you something to eat?” That would be my wish for YOU as well, to treat others as you would have yourself treated.