“I can just tell that you are smart. It’s your green eyes. Are you a doctor?” Immanuel, a friend from the street asked me, spitting crumbs of the crackers I had given him on my arm.
“I am a therapist.” I told him, and watched his eyes light up.
“I need you to help me,” he said. “You see, I’m crazy. I need you to help me not be crazy.”
“Tell me what you mean by crazy,” I said, noticing the bottle of rubbing alcohol in his hand, and the stench of poison on his breath.
“I lose my head a lot. I spend most of my time lost. Sometimes I find myself, but most of the time my head tricks me…” He paused, clearly distracted his own thoughts. “I tell you… I’m crazy. Can you help me? I’m crazy.”
“You’re not crazy,” I told him, “You’re Immanuel.”
Some people say that by walking the streets, handing out sandwiches and tea, we aren’t doing anything. We aren’t helping anyone. I would beg to differ. A sandwich opens doors, softens hearts and sparks conversation. Through conversation stories are shared. Stories are everything. As human beings, we have the inborn desire to be heard, to be valued, and to feel understood. We all want to believe that our story matters.
I have heard before that when you see someone who is homeless, and look the other way, you are robbing them of their humanity. Through my time on the streets, I have come to understand more fully what this means. Individuals on the streets are seen as problems, addicts, sinners, criminals, dangerous… the list goes on. They are rarely asked anything, much less their story. Don’t get me wrong, some do not want to share, but there are many more who do. They just haven’t been asked. It’s amazing the humanity that can be shared through a story.
“I really am a good person,” Immanuel told me.
“I know you are, Immanuel,” He looked at me confused, as if he didn’t believe what I had said.
“My mama gave me the name Immanuel. She had faith in me. She thought I was going to be good.”
“It’s a beautiful name.”
“It’s a huge responsibility…to have that name. I really don’t deserve it,” he said looking off into the busy streets of San Jose. I just sat, letting the power of the silence soak in. “I was once really smart. I could fix any car. But today, if you bring me a bike, I won’t even know how to ride it… You never told me the solution” He said, distracted.
“The solution to my crazy,” He said.
Immanuel proceeded to follow me around the city of San Jose as we handed out food to other individuals. He invaded my personal space, spit on me a few too many times, and did not have the best smell. Some of his stories I understood, others were incoherent. He didn’t ask for money, make me feel nervous, or show any lack of respect. He made me laugh, reminded me several times that God is always the answer, and filled my heart to the brim. He even sang me a song.
“Thank you for the sandwich, I was hungry,” Immanuel said as we were heading towards our cars.
“But thank you more for your smile, and for treating me like a human.”
Thank you, Immanuel, for reminding me what is important.