Saturday, May 21, 2011

My greatest lesson in relativity.

Going through something like this in life changes you, no question, but sometimes the levels at which it hits home still surprise me.
Last night I got a great lesson in relativity. I had told you about the old man at my shelter that was in need of shoes, well I’ve been learning a lot from this man in regards to what is important, and frankly he doesn’t even know he’s teaching me this lesson.
Yesterday two people leading separate, but joined, lives were experiencing a less than great day.

For him, the day had taken a bad turn when he finally received a check that he had been waiting on for quite some time, and when he had taken it to the bank to cash it, the bank had taken what was owed to them, and essentially left him penniless again.
Not that you would ever know it, because this man, while quiet for the most part, always has a smile on his face, laughs at all my silliness, and generally always keeps a great sense of peace and happiness, regardless of his situation in life.

For me, while I’ve been truly finding an inner peace, and greater sense of self awareness since I’ve begun this journey up from the bottom, I learned that I’m certainly not unbreakable, and it’s the smaller things that can do it.
One of things I purchased for myself was a $4 pillow from the dollar store, because the pillows they give at the shelter (all shelters) are these vinyl pillows about a half inch thick, and I’m a 3 to 4 pillow man. So like many things in my life, I learned I don’t need 4 pillows, I just need one.
However when I came back to the shelter yesterday, my pillow was gone. I went to the office and asked if they had taken my pillow and sure enough, they stripped me of my pillow since it was not regulation.
Now any of the other attendants would, and have, simply ignored it when checking the bed area during the day, but not this guy, he is known as “that guy” who will go by the book, even to the disagreement of his own superiors. So now my pillow was gone.
Yes, just a pillow, and god knows it’s probably the most trivial of events that have taken place in my life, especially as of late, but at that moment, being stripped of that $4 pillow, became the sum total of everything that had kept my balance. I tried to just let it go, but I couldn’t, I sat and obsessed on it, angry and rage building by the second, to the point I literally even broke out in hives. It had become my one connection to the civilized world. The one thing that let me feel even the slightest sense that things were ok, and now it was gone.

So here I am stewing in the loss of my pillow, and two beds over is “Pops”(as I call him), also silently stewing in his personal setbacks for the day, when suddenly I get word that a package had come for me! Now I knew what it was, and oddly enough it was not expected for at least another day or two, yet somehow when needed the most, it arrived yesterday.
It was the shoes that Mitzvah Circle had sent to me to give to Pops because his shoes had gotten a hole in them several days earlier, and I simply could not stand to see this delightful old man walking in the rain with holes in his shoes. Foot care is something that becomes a main point in life when in this situation.
So I get the box, and there’s three pairs of shoes, and one of them just really look perfect for him, and I’m hoping those are the ones that fit. So I go over to his bed, and with box in hand, and tell him to check them out and see what fits, and sure enough the ones he went right for, were a perfect fit!!
Now at that point both of ours day had immediately gotten better, but what he did next touched me in a way I never imagined.
I found out from caseworker a few days earlier that this man had written a published book. So when I gave him the shoes, he gave me a great big hug, not a man shoulder bump, but a true heartfelt hug, and then he told to wait because he had something for me. So he takes a moment digging through his bag, and hands me a copy of his book, with the Roman numeral IV handwritten on it. He then tells me that’s it signed in the back pages already, and it’s reserved for someone who shows him kindness.
Now I’m in a jailhouse type surrounding, and I big burly, heavily tattooed guy, but at that moment I had to fight real hard from tearing up.
I’ve received many great gifts in life, from many people, that had great meaning to me, but I now have my absolute prized possession in life. There is nothing that could mean more to me, then that book does.

Moments like that, you can’t help but step back and put it all in perspective. Moments later it was the sanctioned smoke break and he told me about his bad day, and how the shoes totally brought the day back for him, and I shared my pillow story and how that book turned my day around.

I don’t have all the things I want in life right now, but in many ways, I have everything I need, and in other ways I’m richer than I’ve ever been.
One day I’ll have him tell about books number 1 – 3, and here’s hoping he gets to give out many more, because I personally can’t think of anyone more deserving of kindness.


  1. The $4 pillow. I see that all the time in shelters. That mother fucker who took it gets off on that power. That piece of shit person is so weak, so diseased mentally that they get off fucking over homeless people, how sad. To bad this isn't really judgement day it would be nice to see such a disgusting piece of shit get what's coming to them...But after all my anger and vitriol I have to ask myself, I wonder what happened to that person? Why are they so mean, appear to be so evil? After all, though they don't act like it they are human too. What they did, in taking the pillow, that act was not about you but about them. About their fear, angst and I suspect very deep-seated pain. 

    My anger above was real, it is healthy to release I suppose but it's but our compassion even in the face of our hellish existence while homeless, that is what will make the difference. 

    Fran Held and The Mitzvah Circle Foundation are awesome. The compassion and love you showed "Pops" is wonderful. That is so typical of Fran to send more shoes then you expected. I bet Fran hoped the nice ones would fit but sent the others just in case. 

    Please let me know if I can help in anyway. I really enjoy your blog. You might be to "close" to the situation with the attendant and the pillow, but lets hope someone can help them with their serious issues and struggles as well. 


    Revolution MacInnes
    Chicago, IL

  2. There is great grace in compassion. There is great power in non-violence.

    Whenever a struggling person helps someone in a similar position, it strengthens each of them.

  3. I've noticed that things come together in an unconscious way when under the same stress, maybe to battle it, maybe to be stronger than it, or to adapt to it. "Things" being anything living, and "it" being any circumstance that threatens the well being of the thing, either directly or indirectly. Good writing bro, it proves one of my many crazy theories ;)