I passed by a man today, a well-dressed man with a sad face, holding up a sign. A sign pleading for economic relief. I've passed by this man before. I pass by this man every day on my way to work. And it's a sight I never get used to, a sight my heart refuses to accept, but can't ignore. As usual, I averted my eyes, busied my hands, or pretended to notice something interesting in the opposite direction. And, as usual, I felt a strange mixture of shame and pity and anger, both at myself and at this sign-bearing stranger. In the brief two-minute interval between my encounter with the man, stepping out of my car, and walking into work, my mind is always fixed on his story. Every day, I write a personal history for this person I've never met. On bright days, when my spirits are lifted, the man's past is filled with laughter and light and splashes of color. On rainy days, when I'm feeling low, the man's past is riddled with depression and loss and bad luck.
I wonder what led this man, who probably has a wife and kids and friends, people who love and respect him, to peddle for petty cash on a street corner by a fast food joint. I doubt I'll ever have the courage to ask him. So, for now, I'm doomed to write his past for him, and he's doomed to accept that.