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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

One Tragedy Away...

July 16th, 2017 was the 3rd annual “Christmas in July” for the Akron Snow Angels at Grace Park.   With this being a different event than the normal missions for the Snow Angels, I was afforded the luxury of being able to wander a bit.   I took some time to sit back and observe things as they were happening.   I watched to see how people were interacting.   I watched to see how things moved, evolved, and grew.   One of my favorite moments was right near the beginning of the day when I noticed a gentleman waiting in line singing and dancing without a care in the world.   Seeing that big of a smile on the face of someone that may not have too many reasons to smile, makes you realize why days like this need to happen.
Towards the end of the day, I noticed that there was a man sitting in the middle of the festivities, alone.   I hadn’t seen him talk to anyone.  He wasn’t focused on the people or the happenings in the park that day.   He was in his own little “bubble” of sorts.   He looked relaxed, but that went away very quickly as I approached him.  
“Hi, I’m Josh.   I look to learn about and from people.   Mind if I have a seat?”   He gave me the same look that most people give to a door to door salesman.  
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Cuyahoga County”, he replied with little to no emotion.
At this point, I knew there was something to this gentleman.   In the way that he said it, I could tell that he was not hiding anything.   He was not trying to deny life choices he has made.   He was not trying to hide a checkered past.   I didn’t see fear in his eyes, but I did see a skeptic.   He wanted to keep his information to himself to protect himself.   As someone that often fights a bit of a paranoid streak myself, I can understand why he would react this way to a complete stranger asking him personal questions.      
We started to talk more about random things.   We discussed some of the awkward subjects.  Politics, religion, life in general.   We figured out that we were even born at the same hospital!   In this, we found not necessarily completely common ground, but he became more comfortable with me.   I think it’s at this point that he could tell that I was being totally honest.   I had no agenda other than to learn about him, and hopefully from him.  There was never moment where things clicked.   There was however, a progression to a small level of comfort which I promptly stepped past.   
“Where do you stay now?” I asked.   Seeing his reluctance to answer such a direct question I pointed and said “North? South? East? West?”
“I’m west of here.”   With some prodding, he elaborated on how he likes where he is at.   It’s private.   It’s nice.   He can think there.   “It’s just me and one other guy in this spot.   I’m able to be alone there and not have to worry about others.” he said.    
I pushed a little farther and asked how he ended up in Akron since he’s originally from Cuyahoga County.   He gave me the overall story of how he ended up here but in telling this, he went from a stoic man, to a man with a broken heart in the matter of seconds.   His body language changed.   He looked down instead of at me.   His shoulders slumped.   His demeanor changed.  There was no water works.  There was no drama.   There was just a very sad story to tell.      
Here is where we sat on the ground and talked.   I'll remember this spot
The details didn’t matter to me once I heard the basic storyline.   He moved here to live with his girlfriend.   They had a good life.  She was accomplished in her profession and had a job that many dream of.   He was hunting for work at the time when she unexpectedly passed away.  It was in that very moment, he lost everything.
Imagine losing your significant other, and your financial security all in an instant.   Everything happening in a wicked swing from happiness to misery.   It makes me ask of myself and those around me “how would you handle it?”
“I like my time alone.   It helps me to get away from the past and try to move forward” he said on more than one occasion.    It wasn’t until then end of our chat when I finally asked his name.   Being as guarded as he was, I’m keeping it to myself.   He enjoys his privacy and I’d like to let him continue to do that.   I left feeling that I uncovered a hidden gem of a person.   He just needs some time to dust himself off and get his shine back...   

What did I learn from my interaction with this gentleman?
  1. You are stronger than you think.   Everything else can change in an instant.   There’s not always time to plan.   Sometimes, you have to react and trust in your own strength that you can power through the storm.   He adapted and found out that he is stronger than he thought.   He may have emotional injuries to deal with, but he has survived.   He is healing.   He will be better than before.   As a human, know that you have that ability within you also.          
  2. This gentleman totally reinforced my idea of who a homeless person is.   Picture a homeless person in your head.   Imagine how they act.   Imagine how they speak.   Imagine their motions.   Imagine the language they used.   I am very secure in saying that the imaginary character in your head is very wrong.   He is no different than anyone reading this.   He has just experienced a different chain of events that I would not wish upon anyone.   We are merely one tragedy from being in his situation.   There is no stereotype for the homeless and homeless is not a stereotype.   It’s a condition.   A fixable one.  

When it was time to go, I shook his hand and thanked him.   I knew that we touched on some subjects that weren’t always easy for him to talk about.   I learned something huge and I also had a lesson reinforced.   No one will ever be able to repay the cost that he has paid.   It is my hope that learning from his words that we can start to help him and others like him lead a more comfortable, human life.