This afternoon I had the pleasure of teaching yoga to 16 young employees of a local company. I had been there before, about a year ago, and it was nice to see some familiar faces. Although they were in a single line, mat-to-mat in a computer room lined with workstations (and a guy working the entire time), I felt fortunate. Fortunate to share yoga with these folks, (unusually) happy to be inside in the gentle A/C instead of outside in the hot Texas summer sun.
Although a bit challenging to teach in the tight space, it was great fun, and it came easy. (Classes aren’t always like that for teachers.) I began my short drive home feeling happy and peaceful. While at a red light waiting to reverse my direction on one of the most hated interstates in America (it must be!), I saw a fascinating exchange between two men.
I first noticed them crossing the street in front of my stopped car. They were both skinny, wearing T-shirts, and kind of dirty. One of them had on a baseball cap, and appeared to be African American. The other was Caucasian with an out-of-control beard and what looked like a crocheted headband. They were walking close enough to bump shoulders from time to time and talking pretty loudly, but it didn’t sound like they were arguing. I noted that they each had a small paper bag in their hands–and I looked across the street to see a gas station convenience store, surmising they had collected enough money from drivers to get a sandwich or something. It was the latter: when I looked more closely I could see the outlines of cans, the condensation from the cold vs. the heat of the one o’clock Texas sun, betraying their purchases not of needed food but most likely a cheap alcohol beverage.
Instead of immediately descending down under the bypass to avoid the summer sun, they stopped at the other side of the road, talking very closely, in each others’ faces. Then the man with the baseball cap hugged the other one. He hugged him for a long time, the hands at the ends of his skinny arms occasionally tapping the huggie on the back, as if to say “I’ve been there dude”, or “Wow, that’s tough.” When the two finally parted, the receiver of the hug brought the back of his hand to each eye to wipe away tears. Then they proceeded to their “homes”.
It was a very touching scene to witness. For once, I’m glad the light didn’t turn green faster, or I would have missed it.
I am still surprised at how many homeless people there are in Austin. Usually when at a red light, I feel terribly uncomfortable because there is always someone with a sign asking for help. I usually keep a little pile of quarters and $1 bills in my car console, so that when I’m sitting there feeling guilty I can try to do something. What I’d really love to do is offer them a shower, a little A/C (which I don’t want because I have it), and some food. I’ve actually tried offering food before and I’ve been turned down several times. This temporarily stopped me from giving anything, until a man I offered a piece of fruit to told me why he doesn’t accept food–apparently there are people giving out food who try to poison them. Now of course I don’t know whether this is true or not, but he was appreciative, and clearly filled with fear. And apparently it may not be entirely legal to feed the homeless either.
I personally have had a drink with far fewer worries and hardships than these men and women of the Austin streets. So to those two men I say “drink up”, and enjoy having a good friend.