He sat on that step everyday. Sat there, watching the rest of us walk by to our homes or our offices or stores. We didn’t even see him there most days and when we did, he saw him through eyes filled with judgment and disgust. Saw him as a stain on the city. A dirty spot on that otherwise clean step.
And then one day he was gone. It wasn’t until he was gone that we saw him. Really saw him.
We saw that he had a family once. A wife and a daughter. He had a career and a home and a car. He wasn’t always on that step. He was once more than just what we made him out to be in our minds.
We didn’t know he had been in a car accident with his wife by his side and his child in the backseat. We didn’t know that the impact had killed his family and left him hospitalized for months. We didn’t know his hospital bills took precedence over his rent and he lost his home. We didn’t know that in one instant of his life he became a widow, the father of a dead child, unable to work. Homeless.
What we saw was a drunk. A drug addict. A loser. A nobody. A stain on the city.
We didn’t know he attended church every Sunday, even after he lost everything. Especially after losing everything. We didn’t know he spent his afternoons in the library, searching for jobs. That he would travel by foot across town, picking up quarters along the way, to the most inexpensive dry cleaners he could find, to wash his one set of clothing, so that he could attend job interviews and not appear homeless. Only to be told he couldn’t perform the job required because of the injuries left from the accident that took from him everything.
We didn’t know that this man was more than just a stain on that concrete step because we didn’t bother to ask. And then one day he was just…gone. His life swept away with the rest of the debris left on the street.
The concrete step is empty with him gone.
And now we wish we had asked.