I am awkward. I can’t help it, I was born like that. I am self-centered, egotistical and opinionated. Aren’t we all? I am flawed but I am kind. That’s why it pains me to say that I feel like I have done the man in this photograph a disservice.
He and his friends were the best group of people I ran into on a Thursday photo walk. We shared a brief encounter and it was an experience that left me feeling great about people’s capacity for kindness. They called me over, they encouraged me to take their pictures, and we shouted some niceties at each other while I stuck my camera in their face.
This man took off his overcoat and showed me his intricate and colorful tattoos. The light was all wrong, the pictures of him all turned out bad, and I didn’t get the exact representation of the moment the way I remembered it with him.
I gave them all my name, thanked them, and before I left the presence of their company I went to shake his hand. He grabbed my hand with both of his hands as I thanked him. He seemed sincere in his kindness. It felt great to me.
A couple of days later I was back in the area, and I ran into him again. He was alone this time, but I recognized him from across the street, and as he crossed my path we shared Hellos. I said “What an odd coincidence seeing you again” and he agreed. The conversation was awkward, I felt like I should say something, but I wasn’t sure what. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was “just looking for interestingness, just taking pictures seeing what I can see”
Somewhere in the awkwardness, it came up that he was sick of the “bullshit at the mission.” AS I write this I’m shaking my head at my inability to seize the moment and take initiative. I’m a journalism student, and here I am with a chance to form a bond with someone that obviously has an interesting story to tell, and I’m just not talking.
He didn’t say he was homeless, and I didn’t get that vibe from him in our initial encounter. As I realized that he was in some sort of state of displacement, but was not really coming out and saying it I became confused as to how to proceed with this social interaction.
So we began to drift apart, and the further he got away the less eye contact I made. I shouted after him to “stay warm” and went on about my business.
I’m ashamed to say that I believe I was not talking because I didn’t have anything to offer him, and once I realized he might be homeless I knew I didn’t have a place I could offer him to stay. It seems rather hypocritical to write something on the plight of homelessness and not really have anything to offer in the way of immediate assistance. So I feel like shit now.
I have a three-year old daughter and a wife in a small apartment on the other side of town. I don’t have a job so I can’t give him any money because I just really don’t have any. I don’t even have enough money to take him to get some lunch at a fast food place or something. It’s pathetic. I want to help him.
Instead of just saying all that to him, and sticking around, we just both let each other go on about our business. He might not even be homeless. Maybe he works at the mission, maybe he is just a traveler passing through town, I don’t know because I didn’t ask.
I just let him go. I didn’t tell him that I wanted another picture because this one turned out so bad. I didn’t offer him a helping hand, I didn’t try to keep the conversation going, and I didn’t even get his name.
I’m sorry for that kind stranger and I hope your path in life is a positive one. I’m sorry that we didn’t talk more. I’m still overcoming some social awkwardness. I have bad habits when it comes to dealing with people in public. I didn’t have anything to offer and I walked away.
The least I could have done was taken the time to get to know you and your story a little better. I had fallen victim to my own self-preservation. In this society of virtual conversations and online anonymity kind strangers are becoming fewer and farther in between. The ugliness of the internet gets to me sometimes. I cherish these moments of face to face interaction, even though initializing them is like pulling teeth. In my years of experience in socializing I have been burned enough times to know that you just can’t trust everyone. Since I don’t know you, I don’t trust you. I’m sorry for that. It’s just the way of the world. I feel horrible about it and the person it has turned me into.