My Conversation Today With a Homeless Man

hatNormally when I get water in front of Rite Aid, homeless panhandlers usually ask me for money. It’s usually easy to turn them away because I bring exactly the $4 in ones that I need to the penguin machine. I fill my 4 five gallon jugs and go on my way without too much fraternizing. But today was different. A man who appeared to be in his 60’s struck up a conversation with me. After, that is, he asked for money. We started talking and he immediately showed evidence of being mentally ill. I have read that 3/4 of all homeless people suffer from some degree of mental illness and do not have access to medical help. I believed it as he shared how he “preaches to the empty field” as a means of dealing with his anger. He told me some stuff that revealed a pretty serious anger at his parents who he said were now in their nineties. He also said he was Elijah the prophet. But don’t think he was a negative guy. He shared with me many ideas that were positive as I filled my bottles.

When my bottles were full, I interrupted him to tell him I had to go. He told me his name was Garol. I told him I enjoyed talking to him. He taught me a few things about what homeless people do up here in the high desert. I did give him a small something which I am usually not able to do, for reasons described above. At some point he asked me my name and I told him. “David?” he retorted, “Daniel?” When he finally realized my name he smiled knowingly. Apparently Elijah the prophet had seen the film The Omen. Actually it was nice to see him laugh at something normal and not religious, even though it was at my expense. I both love and hate my name. It seems I will never shake the stereotype of that 70’s movie. In conclusion, my homeless man conversation reminded me of how society often forgets the mentally ill and the disadvantaged. I’m going to try and be a bit more patient with these folks when they reach out to talk. They often have no one to listen to them and they deserve our respect. After all, they have in most cases lived a long enough to have something to say.

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Damien Riley

Since 2005, Damien Riley has published a daily column, movie reviews, teaching posts, photography, and an online diary. He’s a married teacher with 3 kids & loves guitar.

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