Personal failure comes in many colors and shapes. It can be the result of a man’s sin but those times are remedied when a man humbles himself. Then there are the failures that accompany regret and haunting times that result from a lack of courage, lack of knowledge or simple selflessness.
One more hour and the night would begin its retreat giving way to another wet Seattle day. A man shuffled along, his head drooped down with discouragement. His missing underwear and wet clothes chaffed the inside of his thighs with each step as he wondered the night away unable to find a place out of the weather. For the umpteenth time his sleeve served to wipe away the dripping snot from his nose. His stomach grumbled and he couldn’t remember the last time he wasn’t hungry. The beginning stages of hypothermia dulled his thinking more than usual.
Five months ago he had a home, a wife, and a job. Since then he had endured several beatings and abuses living on the street. His limited ability to process cause and effect followed a crooked trail in his thinking. In-spite of this handicap his intuitive instinct to survive brought him out of downtown where a plethora of services existed for the homeless but few for the mentally ill. Here on the edges of the suburbs, there were very few services but it was a safer place, away from the downtown predators that stalked and took advantage of him.
Without really looking he slowly angled across the street. A blue pickup slowed but turned wide and went on by. For the last hour interior house lights had begun flipping on symbolizing warmth, safety, and full bellies. His deranged thinking managed an incoherent prayer as he continued on down the hill.
Grayquill had seen instantly the man was not doing very well and he groaned as his conscious told him to go back. “Ugh!”
“How are you doing? You don’t look so good. Where you headed?”
Alex looked up and there was the blue pickup that had passed by earlier. A face leaned low and peered at him across the cab. In his trance like state his brain tried to line up if this was a threat or something else. Cautiously he stepped off the curb and leaned low to peer into the passenger side window. The warm air from the little truck brushed past his face inviting him closer. “Up, down uh…, that way.”
“You hungry? Get in we will go down the hill for some breakfast.”
“Pancakes? Can I have pancakes?”
“Yeah, there will be pancakes,” Grayquill pushed the door open.
In the restaurant Alex ordered pancakes and Grayquill quizzed him on how he had come to such a state. Alex’s words did not track in a straight line. Patrons at another table were eyeing them both and Grayquill being way out of his comfort zone keep telling himself that it didn’t matter what others were thinking. It bothered Grayquill that it bothered him. He followed the guest’s eyes to Alex’s feet. No socks, loosely laced ankle high boots, the laces had been tied together where they had broken and a small puddle of water had formed around his boot.
Several hours later in Grayquill’s office Alex spoke to his wife on the telephone. “I have a job I’m getting better maybe I can come home.” Grayquill had given Alex a broom with instructions to sweep the shop, which he was unable to accomplish. Desperation changed sweeping a floor into a job that would return him home to his wife.
The conversation did little to loosening the chain of responsibility that grew heavier by the hour around Grayquill’s neck. “Alex, can I talk to your wife?”
“Jenny, my new boss wants to talk to you”
“Hi Jenny, my name is Grayquill and I picked up Alex this morning. He wasn’t doing to good. What is going on with Alex? Can you tell me how Alex ended up on the street?”
They were divorced. She explained paranoia and emotional issues that lead to their divorce and now Alex’s homelessness. He had a mother and father who had washed their hands of him. Her story reinforced Grayquill’s first attempt to rid himself of the gentleman. Handing Alex some bills Alex had stared at them and suddenly threw them back at Grayquill almost shouting, “666.” Large scared eyes glared at Grayquill. The serial number of the bill had three sixes scattered within the number. That was when the chain first slipped around Grayquill’s neck.
Grayquill decided the best place to take Alex was the Union Gospel Mission. Half way there Alex comprehended Grayquill’s plan and almost broke down crying as he began pleading with Grayquill to not take him there. “Those people will take me apart.” The chain around Grayquill’s neck got a bit heavier. Turning around, not knowing where else to go they headed back to Grayquill’s print shop. That afternoon Alex got a shower and some clean clothes. Grayquill in his ignorance did not think to buy the man new underwear. The pants Grayquill had scrounged up had a small hole in the right check of the buttocks and allowed an extremely white piece of skin to shine through.
It wasn’t long before an employee wanted to know what was going on and when Alex would be leaving. Alex slept that night on the floor of the print shop. The next two nights were a repeat. Grayquill was getting nothing done – his days centered around Alex, and what to do with him. The weight of responsibility was beyond what Grayquill understood or was willing to accept. Phone calls for advice and help produced ideas but none helpful. In the end Grayquill to his own personal shame dropped off Alex in front of a Welfare Office even though he knew there was no help for him there.
Grayquill here - This experience has haunted me over the years and I carry it as a personal failure. The enormity of the responsibility of just one homeless person kicked my butt. I wish I had shown more courage and this story had a good ending. I have no idea if Alex survived. I am pretty sure I will find out one day when I stand in front of my maker.
Many might say, you did good by helping Alex even if it was only for a few days. You and I both know that is not the truth. Years later I was able to serve in an organization that helped homeless people. That was a much better experience and maybe there I did do some good.
Is there a lesson? Of course there is: Homelessness is one of the very complex problems in our world. Progress can be made by sharing the burden. Many hands make light work…or something like that.
Sorry, for the long post…
Oh Grayquill! You are such a good soul.
Alex overwhelmed you. But you did what you could at the time. You carried the guilt with you over the years and that drew you to community service or as we call it here, social service. I am sure that your maker is very proud of you.
And we need more people like you in this world. Ones who have an active conscience...
Ashley expressed my feelings exactly. You are a good soul.. one this planet is lucky to have.
I was plagued by varying emotions as I read this. 'If only' applies to so many aspects. If only I hadn't stopped.... if only I had gone a little further.... if only it wasn't so hopeless. Never knowing is possibly the worst part to bear. You did what you could. How many can say that?
i didn't know what 2 say after i read the post...then i read ashley's comment and i guess she said it all...u r truly a very good person grayquill...much much better than many of us can ever be!
This is a very powerful post GQ and beautifully told. You didn't just drive past with a "Look at that poor guy". You did everything you possibly could with what was available to you at that time. You went way above and beyond. Proud to know you fellow.
With all the unemployment today, they say most Americans are three pay checks away from being homeless.
My God, we have to do better.
you did save his life for a few nights and every journey begins with one step
I relate to the chain around the neck, I often take on things and then get overwhelmed but not doing anything haunts us too doesn't it
I saw a movie awhile back with Danny Glover as an experienced homeless man helping a younger man. They say a Wall St type and the young man says to Glover - "what's the difference between us and him?"
"2 paychecks" is Glover's response
especially true these days
This is one of your best posts. I liked it very much. :-)
And it was not lengthy at all. You are such a good writer. :-)
Grayquill, your life and your deeds teach and inspire a lot more than priests and mini-Gods ruling our planet could ever do in a lifetime. I mean each and every letter of that. Truly. Sincerly. With all my soul. I consider myself lucky to have even communicated to you in some way. You are truly a GEM.
A very thought-provoking post. You're one of the good guys, Grayquill. Ashley was right.
I love that you at least TRIED with Alex. That's so much more than most of us. You did the best that you knew how to at that time. Life is a learning experience. Thank you for your teachings.
Ok for the first time I could see 'gray'. all this while you have been expressing your self in the most colourful ways possible. the experiences anecdotes or ideas have always felt so fresh even if they were sad or accidental.
But for the first time you showed us the vulnerable side of yours. you dwelled in the forbidden land of 'grayness'. we all inherit shades of gray, but to accept them in such public domain. hats off.
I know you did not write this because you were fishing for 'ohh gray you are a good man' but as they say to vent out the baggage of guilt accumulated in your heart ever since. I won't say you did your best. but, you did try your best.
You did not wash your hands off him. You tried to help as much as you could. The intention can not be doubted at all. Alex would have been in that state for quite a while but not many would have taken the initial step that you took. That's what makes you more humane than others. More human than the rest of us :)
GQ don 't look at this as a personal failiure. You were a Good Samaritan.
The Good Samarita took care of the man as best he could and sent him on his way.God took over from there
God bless you.
Grayquill, you showed Alex kindness and concern which is more than some people would have done. Please don't beat yourself up over it. I think all of us feel we failed at helping others at times. God bless you for being the "good Samaritan" with Alex.
This is so intense because there is not a one of us without these same feelings you expressed. You did far and above what most (including myself) would have probably done. The saddest part of this was not the fact that he didn't have a job...it's what caused him to be jobless, and that was his mental health. His wife, as well as his parents may have experienced a great deal of grief with his paranoia and emotional issues. The mentally ill are so hard to reach and help and are often left to live out their lives in the saddest, lonliest ways possible. Sometimes they are prisoners of themselves...with no hope of parole.
In your time of compassion,you offered a moment of food and shelter, but most of all you nurished his soul. Your maker will be well pleased.
Grayquill, you are absolutely right to say that homelessness in the U.S. is a very complex problem. I am among those who have been where you were--trying to find a way to make a difference for someone whose personal difficulties frustrate all attempts to help. Thank you for your honesty in relating the story, even when you were feeling that it did not reflect well on you. I am heartened by your good heart and am glad to hear that you have had more rewarding experiences in volunteering since that time. Thank you for this wonderful post.
Ashley: Your words are nice –thank you! Your heart seems ready to forgive quickly – so kind.
I know my heart and it is not so good, not then or now. Looking back I can see other things I could have done. And even at the time I knew I was acting cowardly. Good intentions are nothing more than entertaining thoughts. I do appreciate your quickness in offering words of comfort.
Hilary: I pass my comment I left to Ashley onto you.
Valerie: If only – Yes, who knows what would have been possible. Maybe I could have found a church or other businessmen to help. I do know this my stomach starts hurting just writing about the what if’s.
Blunt Edges: Good? Hmmm… I have only known of one truly good person and I am not him but I am filled with hope that he forgives.
Arkansas Patti: For your first sentence – thank you very much. As to I did something extra – hmmm….you might have a different thought if you could see my motivation both then and now. But, thank you. And, yes we do have to do better.
Dianne: I do get it that Alex had a reprieve from his fear filled life. And, thank you for relating to the chain…that is nice.
Karthik: I feel very honored to receive such a compliment from you – thank you!
Anita: Please don’t think highly of me. I promise - you will be disappointed. People are people and we all struggle. My struggle is very often less than stellar.
Betty: You are always way too nice to me – thanks.
Lynda: Thank you - You know what they say, try rhymes with lie and die – two very poor companions. Starting and not following through sucks and that’s the truth. It’s not that I don’t like it – I hate it, especially in myself.
Riddhi: You comment means a lot to me – thank you for not letting me totally off the hook. Men do that for each other – Thanks.
Amrita: When one offers such kind words it seems rude to disagree. The story of the Good Samaritan has often come to mind when I have thought of Alex. I wonder if the good Samaritan would not have rented a hotel room for the man for a month or two and then see if long term assistance and/or partial work might have been found. That would have been better.
Rose: Thank you for your nice words. I do think I was kind to Alex up to the point I dropped him off – please see my comment to Amrita.
Pat: Yes we are all the same in that we all feel the same emotions at different times. Your comment lays out very well the plight of the mentally ill. My hope is that Alex found someone who did better than I.
Mary: Those are nice words… thank you! If your situation still exists I pray you will daily find wisdom, courage and strength. Thanks for visiting.
You did whatever you could. It is such a complex problem.
Are homeless people same as beggars? They don't beg, do they. Here, whenever I come across a beggar, or anyone selling trinkets etc., I would give or "buy". They wouldn't want to go home with you and you wouldn't dare take them home.
I'm not sure what to say. I would like to know what happened to Alex too. Whether you could've done more, I don't think you could. I think even if you had send him to a place that would take him, I'm just not certain he would've stayed.
(sorry for leaving such a long comment, first time around)
Nice to meet you.
I have found you through Hilary's Post of the Wekk which she has given to yiu. I thank her. And I thank you for this marvellous piece of writing that held me from the first word.
How many of us can say that we have not even done this much...we salve our consciounces with a proffered coin and hurry by.
I will be a proud follower from now on.
Gaelikaa: Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post.
Ocean Girl: Some and maybe most homeless do beg. A homeless person in. We have some people who pretend to be homeless and beg. I have heard a person standing with a sign for help outside a Walmart Store will take in upwards of $300.00 per day.
In Seattle if a homeless person knows where to go he can eat up to 5 times a day. The homeless in this area do not sell things, at least not many.
Nice to meet you too! Thanks for the nice visit.
Moannie: I am honored! Such kind words you have sent my way. Thank you!
Hillary is way to kind to me.
There are many kinds of blindness in our affluent society. Obviously you haven't been afflicted by some of the more obvious ones. Thanks for being what you are Grayquill.
Congrats on POTW. This was a well written post, and I have shared your feelings about homeless people I have encountered.
A good soul, indeed. I often wonder about the circumstances that lead people to homelessness. The stories are myriad. And they are heart breaking.
troutbirder: blindness helps the conscious – Thanks for the complement.
Blunoz: Thank you twice. As troutbirder said, blindness… I think it is a good way not to think, feel and avoid doing something.
Thank you for stopping buy it is nice to meet you.
SandyCarlson: Heartbreaking for sure! I fear homelessness is expanding. As Arkansas Patti observed, many of us are only a few paychecks away from it ourselves.
Thanks for stopping by – I hope to get to know you.
You've written a post here that truly touches a deep place within my heart. It grieves me to know that here in the South, we have a church on every corner, but yet not a homeless shelter to be found anywhere.
Why GQ? Why? How can this be?
PS: Have you seen the move "The Soloist"? It covers many of the issues you talk about here with Alex. I highly recommend it.
Debra: I have seen the Solist a great movie. Maybe your church could be the first...
Churches here do different things. One church here has a basement that is open just for women. Another runs a van handing out hot meals along with blankets etc. There are no shortage of possiblites. Good Luck
You are a great person with real humanity. We are all programmed in such a way that we become what we are from our experiences and past. If not for such many incidents, could you have become what you are now? At that time you did not have a proper way and that made your will stronger now and if such a situation comes again, I'm sure that you will do much much better in helping a fellow person who is in need. And you are actually doing that.
Really felt happy to know about you.
Thanks for sharing such nice lesson of life.
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