But not the hopeless kind.
❉ ❉ ❉
On Sunday night, I went with a group of people from church to their ministry called 5 Dollar Missions. We met at a McDonald’s downtown, bought burgers, and took them to homeless people in a park nearby. They had already formed a line by the time we arrived, knowing we would show up and also knowing the first in line have a better chance at getting seconds! The burgers were gone in a flash, and we were free to chat with anyone and begin to build relationships. It was so neat to see how the 5DM volunteers we went with already knew most of the homeless by name and joked around with them like old buddies. It was a relaxed time of relational bonding and sharing Jesus’ love, not a stiff evangelism gathering or an emotional “tell me all about your heartaches” session. It was refreshing and real and an inspirational extension of how we’re called to treat each other daily.
A few of us ended up talking with a homeless man named Chris for the majority of the time. He seemed a little more collected than the others, nonchalantly taking a burger as if he didn’t really need it and speaking to us in a cool, professional tone. Probably in his forties or fifties, Chris tried very hard to not act homeless, maintaining his chill, sophisticated attitude and brushing off our inquiries about how he was spending his time in the Springs. He took an interest in each of us as much as we asked questions of him, and we ended up having a really good conversation.
We learned that he’s lived all over the map, from Japan to Germany and even Dallas and Abilene (who would have thought?). While he offered some information about himself, he seemed more genuinely interested in getting to know us, since we were, after all, the newbies of the group. We started talking about hobbies and art and reading, and after I’d been speaking for a while—mainly about beautiful quotes and movies (shocking)—he smiled and said, “You’re a romantic, aren’t you.”
Odd that it was more of a statement than a question.
A little thrown-off because no one’s ever called me that before, I did the awkward laugh-it-off-slash-mumble-an-awkward “Oh, no, I don’t know…” and smoothly (hah) blew it off. To be honest, it didn’t really click with me what he was saying. Had I given off the impression I was some lovesick person obsessed with dating and all that? That wasn’t right. Attempting to continue the conversation, I went on with whatever movie or book I’d been talking about when he said it again, this time with assurance. “Yeah you’re a romantic.” And that time, it really settled.
What a wonderful thing to call someone: a romantic.
I’d blown it off the first time because I had never heard anyone use that term to describe me, or anyone in this century for that matter. But for some reason when he said it the second time, I knew it fit. Somehow I felt he was right. A “romantic” isn’t someone obsessed with love and relationships at all, but someone who is “marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized” (dictionary definition). Romantics are spiritually inclined, feel deeply, and attach meaning to those feelings. They perceive a richness to detail.
And he offered this interpretation of me with such conviction that I believed him, though we’d just met. After listening to me speak for a few moments, this man understood and defined a huge part of my nature that I’d never even considered before. He got me because he listened.
We often use phrases like “some random person off the street” to make a point. But this man really was some random person off the street, and he was able to sum me up into one simple package of definitions that largely explains the way I think and feel and interpret the world. I was astounded by his discernment and the insight he gave me into myself. I now have a homeless man to thank for gaining a clearer picture of who I am and a wider perception of what it means to understand people. It doesn’t always take years and years to know someone, just a willingness to listen and truly learn.
And I’m slowly learning this: you never know about people. That man holding a sign on the corner might get you better than many others do. He’s a person too—a listener and a speaker, with a huge story of his own and wide eyes to see more than you’d ever think.