The H Word

Oh hell. You probably thought this is what this post is about, don’t you? C’mon…fess up. You did. I know you did and you know you did. Don’t feel bad. I’m sure my past postings would automatically make you think I wanted to say hell when I mentioned the H word. But truth be known, that isn’t the case with this post.

You see, one of my good friends recently told me I was becoming a bit cranky in my advanced age. If you think I’m going to disagree with him on this post, you’ve come to the wrong post, my friend. I am cranky and more importantly, I admit it. I’m old…I’ve lived a little…and certain things in society are beginning to bug the living bejezus out of me. But that isn’t why I created this post. I created to discuss those H words.

I ride my bike through a small section of the city when I use it to commute to work. Normally, this section, which sits under a freeway overpass, is full of older men and women who are Homeless and use this section as their encampment. Just as the sun rises every day, they rise with it, repack all of their belongings and begin their migration into the heart of the city. And as the sun sets every night, like swallows to Capistrano, they return. The area, day in and day out, smells of feces and urine and I can’t wait to get my bike through that two block section of my commute. The nomads, however, gather and huddle, as if to plan which section of the city will provide them with more opportunities that day. Faces become familiar. Shopping carts, filled with their worldly possessions, line the walkway.

Today, I drove my car past that encampment because the weather has been so miserable, I dare not ride my bike; but for them, they aren’t allowed the pleasure of hot air blowing from an automobile heater or the taste of warm food fresh from an oven. Unlike you and I, they are not given the opportunity for a bowl of hot soup to contrast such a dreary and drab day. No…simple things for us; pleasures for them. And today, as I past that encampment, I saw many of them standing across the street, straining for perhaps a final look at one of theirs, as the San Francisco Coroner unit was about to remove a body to its van. I pass this spot almost every day on my way to work. Maybe I knew that face. Maybe once I said hello. Maybe once I should have stopped and offered a bit of cash so that this person could have enjoyed a warm meal. Maybe…. Homeless

A few weeks ago, I went on a fairly long ride, roughly 60 miles. I hit my target destination at about the midway point in the ride and as usual, had not eaten properly before the ride. I simply got out of bed, changed and hit the road. I had a bagel when I stopped, but on the way home, at about 45 miles, I needed to stop to refill my tank. I was so hungry, my stomach ached and to try to forget the hunger, I let my mind wander. And wander it did. I thought of people starving throughout the world, of children who had pains in their stomach worse than mine, knowing that they would have them again the next day, while I could stop and take care of mine. I stopped, ate quickly and took off for home. And while the hunger pangs were gone, my thoughts weren’t. As I neared home, I stopped at my local hangout, Starbucks and settled outside with my cup of coffee. A street person came up to me and asked for a quarter because he was hungry and needed something to eat. Guess you could say right time; right words. I dug into my pocket and gave him everything I had, which totaled seven dollars and some change, apologizing that I couldn’t give him more. He looked at me as though I had just landed from the moon, but soon gave me a huge smile, a loud thank you and headed across the street to the grocery store. Giving something to homeless people is not unusual for me; I do it all the time, but for some reason, this seemed special. There is a very old lady who, each night, stands on the corner of Larkin and Geary, leaning on a 4-legged walker, hunched over and holding a cup out to the passing cars. Whenever I pass through that corner on my way home, I make sure to be in the lane closest to her so that if she is there, I can give her some cash. She gives me a toothless smile as she ambles over and never fails to say thank you. I worry when I don’t see her and wonder how many meals she eats each day. Hunger

I was born and raised in San Francisco and have gone through numerous rollers in my lifetime. The most famous for me was the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. I was in the stands at Candlestick Park, awaiting the start of the World Series game when it struck. The memories of that day will never leave me. And while we can think of the immense tragedy of that day, we simply cannot imagine the tragedy currently subsiding in Haiti. There is no way we can even begin to fathom what those poor people are going through right now. I’ve given to the relief effort and I know you have also. Their pain is huge; their loss even larger. Haiti

There you have it, my three H words: Homeless, Hunger and Haiti. And truth be told, all three equate to another H word: Hell. I guess if we never have to walk a day in their shoes, we will never know what any of those H words truly is like. What I do know is that as I get older I want less of the material things I needed when I was younger, but more of comfort my friends and family provide for me. Because when it really is said and done, family and friends are truly all that matter, even to cranky old fools like me. And, unlike the poor soul today at the homeless encampment, I won’t die without my friends and family surrounding me.

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