"Get out of here you old dirty wretch " is what she was told by the barista who was about to take my order. I was at my favorite coffee shops (at the time) in downtown LA almost exactly a year ago - when an elderly homeless lady walked in to ask for milk. She was looking at the display case full of treats next to me as the barista turned his attention away from taking my order. He paused, mocked the woman and obnoxiously called this woman out to leave the shop. Understanding that she didn't have the money, I offered to buy her milk and a treat. As she left, he justified his mistreatment of her by telling me: "She's homeless and she comes in everyday wanting something. You don't need to have compassion on her." I was so disappointed. Why does that matter? Do people have like a maximum capacity of love or kindness they're allowed to receive and then they're exhausted? He looked at her with a pitiful hatred, almost as if she wasn't human and I looked at him and felt a pit of disgust in my stomach - at how ugly his demeanor towards her was. I wish I had said something to make him feel ashamed of the way he spoke to her, but I didn't know what to say because I was seriously, speechlessly angry. More than that, I was grieved. I walked out to her and while she mumbled something and was leaving the shop area, I wanted to tell her that she wasn't what this man called her. I just gave her a hug and wished her a better day. Suddenly overwhelmed with the reality of her daily life and understanding that this was just one discriminatory moment of many for her, I sat down at a corner seat outside and my heart was flooded with sadness. I balled my eyes out in frustration and when my friend saw me, we started talking about how the worst feeling anyone can feel is unloved. How must it feel to be unwanted and called such degrading names on a regular basis, just based off your status or appearance? People are so entitled because of what they don't understand or know.
Recently, my friend and I were driving downtown and we came across a bridge with a few tents. We stopped to give an elderly man an emergency blanket and a few moments later, a woman dressed for an occasion with heavy makeup and revealing outfit started walking towards us, asking if she could also have one. She was beautiful and young, but when I saw her, my heart gripped in tension as I instantly knew that she was dressed for an occasion. As we gave her the blanket, she thanked us and tucked it away in her bag. We sat in our cars as we were observing what we knew was about to happen. A few moments later, we saw her quickly get into a pickup truck in the corner and the man drove off. It doesn't take anyone special to see that he was buying sex. I've actually seen this happened pretty often, right before my eyes. It didn't surprise me, but saddened me.
A few months ago, I took a walk in Santa Monica and sat next to a woman who told me all her grievances as a homeless, elderly African American woman. She felt like a 2nd class citizen. She was educated, but over the last few years, her circumstances were not favorable and led her to live on the streets. She does not like being there, but it's been difficult for her to find suitable work. She's far from "lazy" and feels like she's tried everything, but no one wants to help her. Twice, she got harassed by a police officer. He fined her over $50 on two separate occassions for sleeping on a bench in public so now she spends money each night for the bus, so she can sleep there where no one will bother or harass her. No one understood her, but made assumptions of her, daily. She told me everyday felt like a fight, a choice for life and "if it wasn't for the Lord," she would not have the strength. She then gave me great advice on how to survive on the streets.
To anyone like that man who has felt this way towards a person based off what their status or image is - It's easy to make assumptions, judge and stereotype a particular person, groups of people, culture, or subcultures based off something we simple observe, have heard, or seen, but when we don't really take time to understand or confront the truth, we have no right to make those assumptions. Sometimes we're so busy judging, we fail to see another fellow human being. For everyone who has ideas of what it's like to live on the streets, I would challenge you to take the time to get to know people who do before making judgements. I'm thankful to be surrounded by so many friends who care about justice, human rights, and advocate for minority and marginalized groups, but what about loving and helping those we can especially in our own neighborhoods? I want to make people like that angry ignorant barista, secret sex-buyer, and uncompassionate police officer feel ashamed.
A fellow human being is not defined by our entitlement and lack of understanding, but when we see people as Thoreau says "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see" - everything changes. Love, doesn't look away or pretend that everything is going to be okay. Love notices the child sleeping on the streets, the lonely soul who needs a friend, the weak, the hurting, the broken-spirits and the poor.