I was walking up a hill recently in Tabor Park, near sunset time, toward a bench where I like to sit. I saw that someone was already seated there as I approached, and then the sun got in my eyes.
Normally I look away (right?) when the sun’s in my eyes, but for some reason I chose not to this time. I let the brightness overwhelm my vision. It somehow wasn’t quite bright enough to hurt; it was a magnificent orange-ish, pre-sundown glow.
I attained the top of the hill and I commented to the person on the bunch, whom I hadn’t even really been able to see up to the moment, “Something blinded me just now. Maybe it was you.”
I meant it, of course, as a joke.
The person came into focus, a young man, matted hair, clothes just soiled enough to signal to me that he was homeless. In response to my words, he summoned a brave, cringing grin. (Can you picture this?) He nodded sheepishly and said, “All right, sir.” This was his effort to respond with an appropriate spirit to what he (I believe) understood to be an attempt at humor, though I’m sure he really had no idea what on earth I was talking about, or that my nonchalant jest even contained kind of an obscure compliment – the suggestion that he could have been the source of that majestic light. I’m quite sure none of that computed, and in fact, I sensed he was a little frightened, in the way that helpless, hungry, physically weak, needy people will occasionally be intimidated by well-fed, large, confident-looking people who stride through the world with accustomed privilege.
Had it not been for the sun that had obscured my sight, I believe I would have read his body language during my approach, and perceived that he would have preferred to have been left alone.
After our momentary interaction, the image of his pained expression did haunt me for a dozen steps or so, during which time I had the following sequence of thoughts:
What if I just offered this one man a place to stay for a night? No, I didn’t really want to invite him into my house. But what if I had an ADU in my backyard, where I could occasionally invite homeless people to stay? Oh no, then the word would get out. There’d be a line every night! Maybe I’d eventually have to make my ADU a “certified” homeless shelter, whatever that might involve and … jeez, what a headache. I certainly don’t have time for such a project in my life.
And so I walked on with a largely untroubled heart.
That entire thought sequence had taken about seven seconds.