I was walking down the street lost in my thoughts on my way to meet a friend and I hear ‘Excuse me’. As I turn my head to see who’s talking to me, I see a homeless man approaching me on the street and assume he’s going to ask for money. I have my regular reply at the ready. Instead he asks ‘Is there another alley this way?’ I’m confused and spend time asking some questions and discover he’s lost his backpack with his medication. Super honest he tells me he was drunk last night and stashed his backpack and can’t remember where he put it. He’s not asking me for anything but empathy and a little direction.
He’s an engaging lovely soft spoken man and I want to stay and talk to him and I’m reminded about my friend waiting to meet me on the street two blocks away. When I apologize and tell him I need to go meet her, the look in his eyes makes me stay.
He tells me his name is John and we talk a few minutes about retracing steps and what the alley looked like. He interrupts me and confesses his name isn’t John but really Barry and has tears welling in his eyes. I realize that I may be the first person in a long time to talk with Barry as an equal and show compassion.
Our conversation lasted 15 minutes and ended with me offering a hug and we both walked away with tears in our eyes. I walked away without assumptions about Barry and feeling privileged to see a hidden part of him likely few people get to see. This was over two years ago and I still watch for Barry every day.
Slowing down and really listening gave me a gift that will last my lifetime.