Perception and Compassion


This man was sitting on the side of the road, on a calm spring morning. Stupefied he looked to the passers-by, many walked around. Men in suites, women in dresses and people walking their dogs. He kept searching for something, deep in his cart of only he knows just what. For a bit almost frantic, at other moments perplexed. What was wrong, what was the matter? I couldn’t help but say to myself as the people walked on by never giving him a second look.

To many I am sure he appeared crazy, why would anyone choose to live this way? Some may think he is irrelevant, a burden on society, but all I see is a man. Lost, in need of a simple human touch, a kind word some recognition that he is still valuable. So I walked up to him.

Sarasota is a unique place in the world. People come here from all around, we have theater, we have art, we have culture, extravagance and a 98% saturated rental market with the highest per-capita homeless population in the country. The homeless have been herded by the wealthy in the community and swept under the carpet in an area of town where there is spartan many empty lots and little development and an abundance of condemned homes. Many of which are havens for the homeless.

Just on the other side of this man are 3 condemned buildings which the city is demolishing this week. So I go up to him and I say:

“Sir, excuse me, do you need anything, can I help you?” at first he did not recognize that he was being spoken to. His leathery skin peering up from below cap and hoodie. Bearded and distant was his face as he finally realized I was speaking to him. Shaking he said to me… “I will be on my way in a minute.” As if to say I was rushing him off.

So I assured him I was not there to usher him off and out of my way… I asked him what he was looking for. “Safety pins, they fell out of my cart, a man gave it to me yesterday, I didn’t steal it…” He looked agitated. Frantic, almost fearful.

I reached out my arm and touched him on the shoulder and looked in his eyes and said. “That’s okay, I’m here to help. Do you need your cart fixed?”

“Nooo… it’s okay you don’t have to trouble yourself.” So I watched for a moment as he attempted to hold his cart together with these tiny safety pins, barely large enough to hold a piece of paper to a woman’s blouse. So I said to him: “Wait a moment I’ll be right back. So I hobbled off with my cane and took off to the garage.

When I came back he was frantically packing up and rushing off, fearful I was going to call the police. I caught up with him and handed him everything he needed to fix his cart. Exactly the right amount of washers and cotter-pins he needed, the exact amount of them I had in my jar of spare screws and bolts.

I handed him the parts and asked if he needed some help putting them in, he was frail and shaking when he said. “Thank you sir.”

To which I replied, “That’s alright but my name is Mark. Nice to meet you sir.”

I saw him today walking his cart by my street, smiling with a pep in his step.

So you see, sometimes when you are lost all you need is a leg up, not a hand out.

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