It has been a long two years since I have been back to South Beach, Miami. I spent three weeks of last Fall with my Family in Cyprus instead and had our hearts broken there with the insurmountable number of feral cats but that is another story for another day.
Whenever we come back to Miami we nervously anticipate whether we will find the homeless friends we made the year or years before. This year our anticipation peeked since we would be arriving just about 10 days post Irma.
As routine as it is, we went across to the Walgreens and put together sandwiches, fruit and water requested the amount of extra plastic bags needed, paid for the food and moved over to the empty counter to divvy it all up. Happy I was to see that Mamma (her given street name) at the age that I would guess being in her mid 60’s, was still at her bus stop bench on Collins Ave between 21st and 22nd where I had last seen her two years ago. She was bent over her knees sleeping, as she usually is, when I woke her to say hello and ask how she was. She has always had very few words and always a gracious, lovely smile of appreciation on her face. That I was “happy” is most likely a poor choice of words. I was happy to see her but destroyed to see her still on the streets.
As my daughter and I made our way over to Lincoln Road, I had my eyes open for one man in particular. We had passed the small covered building entrance he used to occupy on 22nd and Collins but has now been compromised by a new restaurant. His space was gone, he was gone. But we found him. Just around 18th street there he was. A man of unmistakably large stature who coincidentally approached me for a cigarette. As I gave him some cigarettes and the surprise when I handed him his bag of food and extra water, I looked at him and wondered if he remembered me, as I had remembered him. The man that ate his corn bread before anything else. It was two years ago that I went out and bought him new xxxl t-shirts, a pair of the largest sandals I could find and a yoga mat to replace the pieces of newspaper he would lay out as his bed each night. However, the last night in Miami as I went across the street to him, he was not there. I was heartbroken not being able to give him to the gifts I had chosen and set out on my way and distributed them to others in need although not close in size to his large framed body.
There is my “sunshine” young lady who for years, resides on the bus bench in front of the Palm hotel. It shook me up not to see her there for the very first time. (the video of her is found in the prior post)
My daughter and I had the 50% of steak Monday night special at Mayas on Lincoln. The portion as we knew, would be far too large and asked for a box and quickly cut the rest of the steaks into small bite size pieces before boxing it. My man of stature would be having a midnight snack tonight.
A quick walk down Washington was a choice I don’t regret. My “sunshine” lady was now on 15th street sitting in the clothes and jewelry I have seen her in for years and years. Another bag of food and water less and a sigh of relief to see her again.
As we walked home, first visiting my friend to give him his steak, on the other side of the street across from Mamma, which I may add is nestled between The Setai Hotel and The W , we handed off our final bags for the evening. The last, a man so frail, I wasn’t sure if he perhaps had Aids or Cancer…..my daughter and I let the tears flow as we left his sight. The shear pain of knowing this exists, is mortifying.
What this is about though is really something else today. As we went the next evening for food, we decided to buy Mamma a new pair of flip flops as well. As I woke her to ask how she was, and if she ate her food last night I offered her another dinner and gave her the flip flops. Next to me was a woman who starring with her mouth open. She said she has never in all her years seen this before. I am sure it happens very often, but that she was shocked and happy, maybe the gesture will infect her to help as well, maybe she already DOES help. She clearly had a sense of joy and love. I went over and gave her a hug.
And now to my point…
When my daughter, now 20, first started feeding the homeless about 9 years ago, she knew she was giving them something they needed.
I feel it is of the uptmost equal importance to remember or to realize that the people that are out living on the street deserve a lot more than just a passer by handing them food. There is something else they need, something that money can’t buy and that food won’t fill. It is dignity and respect.
When we approach someone we will always, ALWAYS say “Excuse me Ma’am/Sir, would you like…”. We address them as human beings. We ask them how they are, sit down on the street, the bench with them and see if they would like to talk, share their story. You’d be amazed just how many are begging for society to see them as humans in a terrible situation and not a useless dirt on the street. They should not have to beg for forgiveness for what has become of them.
And if they don’t want to talk? Well, somewhere deep down, they know that someone did care, does care, if only for the minutes of the day you are there.
Care. A tiny, simple four letter world that can and will change another persons world and give them dignity if you just activate it.
Beware of being supreme. Your path and journey are not guaranteed. You are only as good as your last good deed.