The light turned red.
I saw you standing there in jeans and a gray sweatshirt with the hood covering the sides of your face. The air was cold like a smiling face biting bitter words. You held your cardboard sign in reluctant fingertips like you didn’t want to catch it’s disease. It said:
Such a small piece of cardboard for so much to say.
I read your sign and looked at you. You knew I looked even though you couldn’t make eye contact. I read the sign again. And looked at your eyes you never settled on anyone. Why were you homeless? What happened? Did you set out on an adventure of self-discovery and end up meeting cold-hearted life instead? Were you kicked out of your home by an angry father who couldn’t accept you since you didn’t measure up to his self-righteous standards? How did you end up standing here at this exact moment when our car stopped beside you?
Why was this light taking so long to turn green?
How can you be homeless? Especially now when winter is eating its way closer to our bones. When Christmas is just around the corner? How can you not have a home? Not have a lit up tree? How can you not have presents for Christmas?
This light is still red.
Your eyes still keep averting themselves.
So do mine.
Did you really mean “God bless”? Or were you just throwing His name out there in hopes that someone would have compassion on you like His Son would? Was this a guilt trip? Or a reminder? Because if you believe in God you must be very angry and confused about His role in your life right about now? Was it your own choices that resulted in you standing here on the side of a busy highway? Or did evil see such a light and joy in you and decide to throw such painful needles to pierce you in the night? Was evil trying to numb your feeling heart? If you believe in God, do you wonder why He’s not providing for you? Do you worry He will let you down? Or do you feel as if He already has?
This freaking light is still red.
I look back at your lined, young face. You must be my age. Or younger. I see your eyes shifting as if looking at another human being burns your eyes like a gas stove being lit. It even hurts my soul to look at you. I can feel the shame stifling you and it makes me wonder if my gaze suffocates you further into its darkness. Do you wonder what I think when I see you? Maybe you think I assume you are just a drug addict reduced to standing in the cold in hopes to be given a few bucks to get high and escape the shame you wear like a dirty sweatshirt that just won’t come clean. Can I blame you if that’s what you have to do to find relief from your shame? God only knows how I’ve tried to escape mine. Do you silently scream for me to turn my eyes away from you just like this light is screaming red? You seem to ache for green too.
It’s still red.
We’re still stuck here with you not looking and me not being able to stop. I know it’s rude to stare. And I’m not trying to be rude. I too was taught never to make eye contact. But you have a story behind that cardboard sign. Behind that disease you hate to touch. You never wanted to end up here like this. As a boy I’m sure this is not what your wild dreams were made of. You probably expected to have a wife and kids by now. To be at home setting up a tall green Christmas tree strung with colorful lights with your children at your side and your wife filling your home with the smell of baking chocolate chip cookies. Silent Night plays in the background. A horn blares me back to see you. You’re not home, you’re here. At a busy intersection where everyone can see the humiliation you tried to hide under a hooded sweatshirt and a cardboard sign.
The light is green.
Please look at me.
Please know, I see you.
We pass you by without giving you anything. I pray a prayer for you, feeling how inadequate it is. Will you be okay? Do you have somewhere warm to rest tonight? Will you cry yourself to sleep too worn out to try? Will evil win another piece of your light? How much longer can you keep it glowing? I can’t see your heart or your thoughts with this glaring green light in my face. But I can see you wilting under the weight of people’s judgments like a tired green leaf withers under the weight of cold snow. You don’t have to hear their slanders when eyes that look but don’t see scream louder than any words. It is terrifying how just a glance can skip your sentry skin and shoot straight into your veins. Bitterness ices our hearts like this cold gnashes on our warm blood. How do we stay warm with such a Cold War to fight? How do we keep our light warm and glowing when wicked wind is constantly blowing against us? How can beating love survive?
So many questions behind that one infected sign.
So many untraceable answers.
So many eyes and so many pockets of change.
And I’m just another car driving by.
For that, for all of it, I am sorry.
So from one mangled human heart to another human soul
—Please know, I see you.