Friday, September 29, 2006

Sometimes Life Just Sucks

Last night as I was heading home, I stopped in the Food Court of the the train station and spent the last bit of cash I had on me for a soda. Almost immediately after that, I was approached by a young man with a mousy looking woman in her late teens behind him. My sheilds went up and I was ready to repel all boarders.

Typically, the homeless are a bold lot in Chicago. They walk up to you and, practically violating you personal space, aggressively ask for money and/or cigarettes. Typically, they are wearing scowls and snarl the request out. Some times it's not even a request. It's a demand for money or smokes. I have absolutely no problem refusing these types of people. I thought I was going to have to do the dance again.

But I was wrong.

This man did ask for money. But he was very polite and used the word "sir". I regretfully, to my surprise, had to inform him that I had just bought this soda with the last of the cash I had on me. Then he surprised me.

I had expected him to give me a half perfunctory "thanks, anyway" while his eyes turned cold and calculating as he sized up the others in the Food Court. But it didn't play out as I expected. He said they really weren't looking for money. They just wanted something to eat and could I please buy them something... Anything. All the while the girl was looking on with half realized flicker of hope in her eyes. And misery. And above all, hunger.


Usually when I plan on just heading to work and then home, I bring what I call Wallet-Lite. Just my IDs, insurance cards (in case I get creamed by Chi-town's insane taxi drivers), and a credit card. I leave my check card and other credit cards at home. Today was one of those days. And to top it off, I forgot to swap credit cards -- the one in my wallet was maxed.

Last night I saw hope die in their eyes and despair settle like a well worn cloak over both of them. I am sure I was not the first person they approached for food. And still they were polite and thanked me for my time.

I don't think there are many times when I have felt as low as I did then.

I couldn't finish my dinner that night. Everything tasted like ashes as I could not get them out of my head. Children (because that's what they were - no older than 18 or 19) should not look so old and defeated.

I have been where those two are right now. I was maybe couple years older at the time, but not that different. Homeless, penniless, hungry, and without any hope or optimism for the future. Fortunately, I managed to claw my way out. It was hard work and very nearly broke me. But I did make it. And a lot of it was luck and the right circumstances. According to the odds, I should be dead right now.

I really hope those two manage to break out as I did. But I'm not holding my breath.

And it's a terrible thing indeed that I feel that way.