Not 'nobody'

By Jessica Connor

What would happen if we all just took a minute and smiled at everybody we encountered? If we didn’t simply rush on by but paused to acknowledge the humanity, the Spirit, within each of us?

I get the opportunity sometimes to interview homeless people. Time and again their chief complaint, when I ask, has nothing to do with lack of housing or lack of food or clothing. It is the treatment they get from the “regular working people.”

The homeless man I interviewed this month, Bobbie (see “Life on the Margins,” page 8), said people don’t ever look him in the eye. They treat him like he is nothing, nobody. It makes him feel like he is not even a human being, and that is the absolute worst thing in his life.

Bobbie sat there with me on that sunny morning, clutching my hands, tears rolling down his face as he told me this. It broke my heart—and yet I’ve heard this from him and people like him over and over and over again.

That broken heart makes me feel more. It makes me want to step up, smile brighter, be kinder to strangers. It makes me wonder whether the young woman taking my order at McDonald’s is hanging on by her fingernails, if her random encounter with me is the one that makes her say, “Hey, it wasn’t such a bad day,” instead of feeling she can’t take it anymore. It makes me wonder whether the backpack-wearing man at the red light is at the end of his rope, and if a kind word or genuine smile from me might be the thing that keeps him believing in humanity, that keeps him from swallowing a handful of pills tonight and ending it all. It makes me wonder whether the stone-faced lady at the store isn’t being rude, but is in bereavement or has just been diagnosed with cancer. Who are we to know?

We don’t. And yet in our rush to walk on by, to focus only on our needs and not on the millions of others around us, we do so much more harm than we think.

What if we try a little experiment: just be good to each other and see what happens? None of the material things we work so hard to accomplish or attain in this life transfer to the next. We don’t get to keep that big house or fancy car. Our inbox at work will still be full when we pass on. But love is something we do get to carry on. I like to think it expands the reach of heaven. And when we reserve that love only for those in our inner circle, we are closing ourselves off to so much. We may never see that clerk at McDonald’s or that man at the red light again, but we never know what difference our momentary kindness can make.

Maybe the world really would be a better place. Maybe we can make heaven on earth just like that.

And to Bobbie: you’re not “nobody.” You’re somebody. You made my world a better place just by being you.

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