Today when I came home from work, I saw a small memorial with candles and pictures on the street corner. They were set up in a spot where there once used to be a chair, which was the only home to a homeless man called Michael. He made a lasting impression on me from the first time I moved to this neighborhood. He was one of the most kind hearted and friendliest human beings I’ve ever met and was very giving with his smile and compliments. He was a short guy and didn’t make a secret of having a tall girl thing for me, in the most charming non-offensive way. During our many encounters, Michael never asked for anything; in fact he would sometimes present me with gifts, little oddities like mini flash lights.
Just like every other human being, he had his bad days and alcohol was his biggest vice. When alcohol got to him, I could see him deteriorate in front of my eyes. Then he would disappear for a few days or weeks and someone would remove his chair and I would wonder what happened to him until all of a sudden he was back with a fresh shave and haircut, a new hat, sitting on a new old chair with the same genuine smile on his face. Every time I saw him, Michael caused a surge of thoughts and emotions in me and guilt was the one I experienced most. I avoided him sometimes because I didn’t want to deal with the emotions. I would cross the street before reaching his corner or sneak by him when he seemed to be sleeping. I wanted to know his story but I never dared to ask because I was afraid to mock him. How do you start that conversation? How about “Hey I live in that luxury tower over there where they pamper our asses beyond reason – how did you end up on this shitty chair?” And then we had that grueling winter. It was incredibly cold from the beginning of November through the end of March and not once did he complain about being cold while I whined about it like the majority of the more fortunate New Yorkers with well heated homes. It’s so easy to complain when you have so much and it causes so much confusion (and guilt) when you meet someone like Michael, who lost everything but held on to his smile. I wish I would have never avoided him and never missed one of his smiles. His liver couldn’t take it anymore – that’s what his friend told me. He also told me that Michael is home now, which reminded me of what he always told me when I asked him how he was doing: “Oh you know dear – Just another day in paradise”.
Rest in peace my friend. Thank you for everything.