“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” -Aesop
As I was driving home from watching the football game with my son at a local bar and grill today, I passed a homeless woman sitting near a busy intersection. If it’s logistically possible when I am driving, I almost always stop to talk to homeless people when I see them sitting at intersections asking for money.
Since they are suffering human beings, and I am a human being who has suffered, I have this weird, counter-cultural notion that they are worth a few minutes of my time, some kindness and recognition of their humanity, and a few dollars (or one of the “care kits” that I often have in my car).
I worked with homeless addicts for three years, so I know that if I give them money, they will probably use it to feed their addiction. But at least I don’t just drive by them like they are sacks of garbage. So I don’t give a fuck.
Back to the woman today, who I discovered calls herself Tall Talkative Tammy. First, I had seen her in that spot before. Second, she looked older, more weathered and bedraggled, more disheveled, and more beaten down by life than most homeless people I have seen.
Those factors, plus my specific compassion for the homeless, because many have a mental illness or an addiction like me, AND the recent article about Mark Rippee (the man in the photo below) inspired me to turn my car around around and park in an abandoned lot near her so that I could go and speak to her.
Society failed Mark Rippee miserably. I felt I would be complicit in that failure if I ignored this woman.
* FROM THE ARTICLE ABOUT RIPPEE: Mark Rippee has survived on the streets of Vacaville for nearly twelve years despite being sightless, missing parts of his brain, enduring the pain of an interior metal rod to support his shattered right leg, fifty surgeries—many of them to heal the wounds he has suffered from repeated beatings by passing thugs. . .
. . . And, oh yes: despite his diagnosis of acute schizophrenia (a diagnosis that, weirdly, Mark’s family cannot definitively confirm because of restrictive and nearly useless laws)*.
As I started talking to Tammy, I could smell stale beer on her breath. Her facial skin could easily have been mistaken for badly aged leather. I gave her a hug and it was obvious she hadn’t had the “luxury” of bathing in some time.
She invited me to sit next to her and talk to her. I gave her some money to help her out. Shockingly, she started to give it back to me and offered to take my wife and me to dinner so she would have company. She said she had the money because one of the men she lives with in an abandoned building that was flooded out gets SSI. Now that is loneliness
Tammy is probably in her 50’s, but her obvious years of alcohol abuse have taken their toll, making her look much older. And her teeth had seen better days.
We had a 15 to 20 minute conversation. I asked her how she got to this place in her life. She went in to tell me that she used to live on Independence Avenue, which is an area of Kansas City where many addicts live and sell sexual favors to support their habit.
It’s heart-breaking that some of my brothers and sisters fall so far that they end up stuck in that viscious cycle. But at least Tammy is in a little better situation now with Medicaid and EBT (she said), shelter in an abandoned building and “roommates” with an income.
I know that all I did today was put a bandage on a wound, but as I said good-bye, I could see by the expression in Tammy’s beautiful ice blue eyes that it meant something to her.
And I could easily have been Tammy. But for the grace of God go I.