A Time for Compassion
I’m reminded of a moment I experienced a few years ago in Dallas. The reason I’m remembering this moment is that I recently read a social media post where an elderly couple was crying in the middle of a convenience store because they couldn't buy the necessities for them to survive. It was heart-wrenching to hear. Now let me preface that what happened to me in Dallas changed how I see people in need in such a profound way.
A few years ago when I was working for myself as an artist I needed every dollar to make it each month. It was a challenging time. At the time I was attending a festival as a vendor in Deep Ellum, Dallas. I had a strict budget. I had $100 in cash to change cash payments for people that bought my art that weekend.
On the second morning of the event, I was driving around looking for paid parking and passed a parking lot that was across the street from the venue. I noticed an elderly man hunched over a cane asking folks that were paying for their parking at the electronic kiosk for help. I could tell they weren't paying him attention. I pulled into the parking lot parked my car and headed to the kiosk. After paying I turned around and noticed the elderly man standing a few feet from me. As I got a closer look I could tell this man was at least 85-90 years old and exhausted. His feet were swollen so badly they barely fit in his shoes, and his hunch was so bad it made looking up at me difficult. He spoke with a whisper that required me to pull in closer to hear what he had to say. When I asked to repeat himself he said: “please help me, I’m stranded and need money to get a bus home.”
You know sometimes when homeless ask for money it seems a little repeated? This was different, he was in pain and anguish.
He said he had missed his bus the day before after a doctor’s appointment ran too long. He had walked around all night, tired, in pain, and hungry. So I asked him where he needed to go. He said Abilene, TX which was at least 3 hours away.
I asked him how much a ticket was and he said the greyhound normally charges him $20. So I gave him $20 without really thinking about it and I asked him how far the greyhound was and he said it was at least three miles toward downtown.
I said, “I’ll drive you c’mon.”
At that moment he grabbed my arm as if he was ready to collapse, put his other arm around my shoulder, and placed his head on my chest and began to cry.
He said, “I’ve asked dozens of people for help, and they’ve all ignored me, you were the first to stop and listen.”
We both held each other by the kiosk and cried. I was so moved by his gratitude and just the whole moment. We stood there crying as folks walked on by, I don’t think anyone even noticed, to be honest.
I walked him to my car and helped him into the front seat. As we drove out of the parking lot not but one min into the drive he had fallen asleep. When we arrived at the bus station I asked him if he needed help finding the bus, he said he could manage from there. Before he left I gave him my other $80 for him to eat and if something were to happen. Before we said goodbye he gave me his name, Otes Barron. I cried like a child who just said goodbye to their grandparent for the last time.
So many thoughts ran through my mind. That this elderly man was once young and strong. He must have been a hard worker, perhaps a loving father. And there he was alone and abandoned in a city with millions and yet no one heard his call for help. That stuck with me. And reminds me that sometimes when we find ourselves in a challenging situation we still have our humanity. A lot of us are fortunate to have what we have however little it maybe because others don’t even have that. For people like Otes who have no one, it is the loneliest feeling in the world. Fear can take a lot from us. Our ability to see that others are less fortunate. It can make us act irrationally. Don't let it take your sense of humanity.