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 Wednesday, 30 March 2005
Wednesday, 30 March 2005 01:04:37 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

I just had a thought-provoking experience that I thought I’d share. I have shared my views on giving money to homeless people on the street, and while this didn’t change my mind, it certainly made me pause.


I am at a Microsoft event in Seattle this week, and this evening we had a social event at a pool hall just outside Seattle proper. A shuttle bus was running every 20 minutes between the event hotel and the social event.


About 12 of us were ready to leave, so we were waiting outside for the shuttle when a homeless man came up to us. He was dirty and hadn’t shaved for two or three days and he was wearing worn jeans and at least two tattered coats. He had on knit gloves with assorted holes in them and was wearing a smudged Old Navy baseball cap.


He walked up and asked “Can I go with you guys?”


A colleague of mine who works at Microsoft answered “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the bus driver.” To which the man replied “I was just kidding.” My colleague, with good humor said “I was too” and smiled at the man.


Then the man asked “I was wondering if any of you could spare some change?” My colleague opened his wallet, saying “I’ll do you one better”. After a bit of fishing around he pulled out a $10 “Here’s ten dollars for you.” The man took the money.


Then he took off his right glove and shook my colleague’s hand, introducing himself as Jacob.


Jacob then suggested he should talk to some of the other people in our group, but my colleague suggested that he’d done well here and should call it a night. Jacob agreed.


But then the most interesting thing happened. Jacob explained that he’d been a fisherman, but had hurt his back. That he’d worked for a small company that didn’t offer workman’s comp. That if he’d worked for one of the larger companies he’d get a monthly check, but as it is he doesn’t get anything.


Alternating between tears and clenching his fist in rage he told us that he’d had it all, a house/condo, a girl, a normal life. Now he lives outside, with no home.


My colleague suggested that he had ten dollars and could get some food. Jacob said he had food. He talked about how he drinks too much and can’t pull his life together, and then tried to give back the money. My colleague refused to take it. Jacob offered several times, and the answer was the same. “My hands are in my pockets, I’m not taking the money back, it was my gift to you. Put it on the ground or back in your pocket, but I’m not taking it back.”


After some time the shuttle arrived and we got on for the ride back to the hotel. I sat behind and to the side of my colleague and witnessed something of true value. My colleague, sitting on a bus in the darkness was fighting back tears. I think that he was truly touched by the plight of this homeless man in a way that very few of us ever allow ourselves to be.


We see these homeless and see many things through various social, economic and political filters. But I think very few of us actually see the person and their individual struggle and suffering. And I think my colleague saw this tonight and was touched by it, and me through him. And it makes me very sad. Sad and thoughtful, perhaps even mournful as I wish for a world where such a story wouldn’t happen…

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