When Adam returned home, he saw the homeless man there again, standing in the doorway, shoulders slumped in his tatty blue anorak, his whole posture dejected as ever. He was near that spot much of the time now: he must sleep somewhere in the vicinity. His head was bent, greasy hair covering his face. He didn’t raise it or make eye contact. Adam took some change out of his wallet and placed it in the man’s hand in a slightly embarrassed way, then walked on, unlocked the door and went up to his flat. He felt bad for the man, and occasionally wondered how he had ended up on the streets.
He was doing courses at the local community college at that time, and one of his classes involved meditation and mindfulness, becoming more spiritual and opening one’s heart to others. Everyone is connected to everyone else, their teacher told them. If you drop a stone in a pool, the ripples spread far and wide.
Quite the model student, Adam was practicing being more open and friendly towards everyone he met, and making a real human connection with them.
When he came home the following day, after one of his classes, he looked at the homeless man differently
“Hello, how are you?” he asked cheerily, as he placed some money in the man’s hand. The man mumbled something which sounded like “thanks” but did not look up. Each day after that, whenever Adam saw him, he stopped to chat, making small talk about the weather, or some other banalities. At first the man would not reply, would not look up, or establish eye contact, but after a little while, a few weeks, he gradually started chatting back to Adam, and a friendship sprang up. Adam used to look forward to seeing him and having their chats whenever they met.
One day when he walked home the usual route from the station, the homeless man was not there. Or the next day, or the day after that. In fact he seemed to have completely disappeared. Adam did not see him after that. He missed his friend and wondered what happened to him. But then he became very busy, as he graduated from college, he started a new job, and then got engaged to Stephanie. His life took a different turn, so after that his friend from the streets rarely entered his mind.
One day, around a year later, something unexpected happened when Adam returned home. Not far from his front door, he saw a smartly-dressed man in a suit who looked vaguely familiar. He was surprised when the man came up to him. Then, when the man started speaking, all became clear:
“Hi! You remember me? I used to be homeless, and sleep on the street here there. You used to give me money sometimes, we used to chat. That was really bad point in my life, and I couldn’t see a future. But when you started talking to me, it helped, woke me up. You treated me like a human being; you treated me with respect. That made a real difference to me. I thought since you treated me with respect, I should start treating myself with respect as well. So I went and got a job and a place to live. And my whole life is different now. I just came back here to say thank you to you, for what you did for me.”
They chatted a bit after that, and then went their separate ways. But it was an encounter and a friend that Adam would never forget. He and the formerly homeless man had changed each others’ lives.