The Young Man With The Cardboard Sign
A young man sat on the corner of Lark street in Albany today holding a hand-written sign on a tattered piece of cardboard that read 'Kindness Appreciated'. Beggars are everywhere in Albany these days, but this was an unfamiliar sight. He was in a place where no one sits; a relatively quiet area, positioned in a way as to not attract too much attention. As I walked by him with my two dogs, he asked me a question; a clear attempt to get my attention. 'Are they from the same litter?' he questioned. I paused, looked back over my shoulder, then turned around to answer him. 'No', I said, 'but they've lived together for a while...so I guess they are brothers. Just not from the same litter'. 'Cool', the young man said, giving me a nod of approval.
He was no older than 20 years old, maybe 22 tops. Compared to some other people I see asking for a handout, he was rather put together. His clothes, while worn, weren't tattered or frayed. His eyes weren't glassy, he didn't wreak of alcohol and wasn't pestering anyone. He was different.
When we spoke he made direct eye contact and was a good-looking kid. Like, if you saw him in a different situation he might be the friendly server at a restaurant or a ball player for a local college.
"What's your story" I forwardly asked.
"I lost my job recently, so my mom kicked me out of my house, my dad is a crack-head and he steals from me so I have no money." he explained.
As a general rule, I don't usually give money to beggars. It's been my personal experience that giving to them brings more, and I don't want to be hustled or bothered (sometimes aggressively) when I'm out for a walk in my neighborhood. It's my personal choice, you do you.
All I could offer this young man was 'I'm sorry, man...I wish you well'
He smiled, confidently. 'Thank you', he replied.
As I walked away, my heart kind of hurt for this kid. I have no way of knowing if what he told me is truthful, but for some reason I believed him, or at least most of it.
Lost his job, mom kicked him out, dad is a crackhead who steals from him...I was thinking about all of it.
Whether or not any or all of this true, my brain connected all the things he told me about his supposed life and applied it mine.
I've never been fired from a job. My mom would never kick me out of the house (in fact she never wanted me to leave the house) and my dad has never touched a drug his in his life. My parents, my home life, my circle of friends, colleagues, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and neighbors all would pick me up if I ever needed anything. They've always just been there for me - good times and bad, sickness and in health. And yet, there's shit I struggle with daily.
Whatever it was (or is) that caused this young man to sit on a street corner, holding a sign, swallowing his pride and asking for a handout was something that I know I never experienced in life.
The hand-written message on his sign flashed back in my head.
Maybe it wasn't about the money, maybe he just wanted someone to chat with.