“There are no random acts…We are all connected…You can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind…”
— Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
I found the McDonald’s I was looking for yesterday, but I needed directions … from Rudolph.
It was my last run around National Mall and the Tidal Basin on this trip. As I came running back along side of Union Station, I saw Rudolph again.
I stopped and started to say hello only to realize how winded I was after my run, something he cannot do. He chuckled and said I should catch my breath first.
Leaning over, I asked if he had breakfast yet today. “No,” he said looking down.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“McDonald’s is good. Cheeseburger, anything they have.” he said.
“Where is it?” He pointed at Union Station. That shows how little I know my way around since I looked everywhere for one yesterday. Oh well, live and learn.
After some guidance to find the fast food giant by a very helpful young man and some funny moments at the McDonald’s counter, I walked back outside with breakfast.
As I gave the sandwiches to Rudolph, I asked if I could sit down and ask him a question. “Sure.” he responded.
“What keeps you out here?” I asked.
Rudolph told me that he was 51 years old and lived in D.C. most of his life. He talked about spending time to Florida and North Carolina. He talked about having a bad relationship with a woman once. But mostly he talked about having too much anger. He moved about a lot because he held a lot of anger against his family. He talked about how it’s hard to see the fear in other people’s eyes when they see him.
He also talked about his adopted children. Two live in Florida and two live here. When I prodded a little, he told me that he calls them his adopted children although it’s not a legal arrangement. They just help each other.
Paraphrasing what he said, “Helping each other is what’s important. I help whoever I can and they help me. I’m not ashamed to ask for help. It’s tough to get into some places in a wheel chair so if someone can push, I appreciate it. I also try to help them if I can.” he said with a faraway look in his eye.
About that time, he dropped his bible. I watched as he moved slowly to get it. Before he could even get turned, a passerby reached down quickly and handed it back. Rudolph doesn’t move fast.
I asked him if he has a place to live. He said that he’s getting his own place next month. It’s one of the reasons that he moved back to D.C. He’s waiting on some notarized paperwork, but he’ll be moving into subsidized housing very soon. He gave me an address which meant nothing to me, but clearly meant something to him.
I then asked him about a job. He says that he looks on the internet, but there isn’t much out there for a 51-year old, disabled man. I thought to myself that it’s hard for any 51-year old in today’s job market, let alone one having disabilities.
Getting up, I told him I didn’t want to take too much of his time. He thanked me for breakfast. We shook hands.
Walking away, I couldn’t help reflecting on Rudoph’s story. It sounded so very … human. It could have been a story from any one of the hundreds of commuters who walked by us as we talked. Mistakes made. Anger. Fear. Resentment.
Rudolph’s story is also one of routine. He sits by Union Station because he can get a meal. It’s what’s comfortable to him. He’s probably looking for a job, but not as hard as someone else might think he should. Routine. The everyday. Getting by.
His story is also about doing something better. Helping out a child or a friend. Accepting help when he feels it’s needed. Giving a little. Appreciating what he has.
In my life, I’ve heard so many people tell me that homeless people are all slackers. Charity is a waste of time. Giving does more harm than good. Entitlement breeds laziness. Compassion, while well-intended hurts more than it helps.
But those who say this are looking at the causes of poverty and the causes of homelessness. They’re not looking at the daily reality which looks a lot like the reality of all of us. Routine, survival, making a living, getting by, eating, having some control, and comfort. It’s our common reality and we all need a little help from time to time.
Rudolph’s story is so much like all of our stories. He’s doing what he knows how to do to get by. He has frustration, anger, needs and hopes … just like all of us. He wants to be accepted … just like all of us.
Rudolph will never be able to take a run like I can, but that doesn’t mean that his story and mine are different.
In fact, they’re very much the same.
Brought Rudolph some breakfast.