Ashley Tieperman submitted the winning entry for our World Habitat Day essay contest.
They are homeless. They are without a home. They have nowhere to go.
I saw one of them walking down the side of the road as I was driving to work. As I was coming from my home. They don’t have a home, which doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have a car. But they probably don’t.
We don’t say they’re carless. We just say homeless and let the word speak for itself.
I let them all get their dinner first. I tried not to stare—just trying to fill up after a long day at work. My bowl of macaroni in one hand and my water in the other—I passed on the hot dog and beans…Why did I pass? If I really was hungry, it wouldn’t matter that I hated hot dogs. You would hope I wouldn’t pass.—I tried to pick the right table. Someone who wanted to chat or wanted company. I picked the wrong table and felt like I was in the middle of a conversation I wasn’t meant to hear.
A husband and a wife—or a boyfriend and girlfriend, I’m not sure. They had a young boy in the middle who was tearing apart his hot dog and yelling incoherent words and throwing any little toy piece that wandered into his tiny, snotty hands. She couldn’t tell him to run off to his room so that Mommy and Daddy could talk. This was their space and their time. And I was in the middle, trying to blend in.
We sorted and sorted through these towels and sheets and random toiletries as the children ran around playing catch and picking up the miscellaneous pieces from board games. One of the volunteers brought his son who ran around with the kids, but soon it was time for him to go home to bed.
The hot dog destroying, toy stealing, screaming young boy wanted to know where his friend went. “He had to go home for bed.” He said it and instantly regretted it.
I wonder now what I actually gave these people—what did I help them with? I didn’t give them a home or fix their misfortune. I’m not sure I even gave them wisdom. But I did smile.
As I saw the man walking down the street smiling, I realized I gave them my smile. Maybe that’s enough for now.