Can The Homeless Teach Us How To Be Happy?

Getting back to my car the other day, proved to be a rather daunting task with pouring rain and no umbrella.  At a certain point, you figure you can’t get any wetter than you already are so, running becomes rather redundant.

Taking my time at this point, I watched as people hurried around, umbrellas covering faces and hair, looking downwards and from what faces that I could see, somewhat miserable by the inconvenience of having to walk through water coming from the skies.

I had just spent the past four hours in a hospital, waiting for pre-scheduled medical tests that had been delayed due to emergency cases which had to be taken first.  At this point, my head was pounding, I was soaking wet from head to toe, my mascara had run to the point of looking like Alice Cooper and I was shivering, feeling as miserable as those who passed me by, looked.

It seemed as though a lot of people were miffed at trying to hold onto their umbrellas, a take-out coffee and their cell phones at the same time.  Afterall, how dare the rain ruin their coffee-cell time.

As I passed by an old church that has seen over one hundred years of rain, snow, wind, hail and sleet, I couldn’t help but notice a group of homeless men, gathered beneath a small overhang that sheltered the main entrance.  It struck me that the very same group of men had been there, in the same place hours ago as I walked past them while heading in the opposite direction, my mind occupied by hurrying to get to my appointment to wait, wait and do more waiting.

Photo by Keith Harris
A Chicago based documentary and street photographer, working on a photo-essay entitled “On the Street.” This essay is a series of images that document the people that call the streets of Chicago home.
http://www.the37thframe.org/2009/06/photo-critique-keith-harris/

Standing in the rain, waiting at a light to cross, I watched as these men went on laughing with each other.  I could barely hear their words but, what struck me most was the fact that these men were as wet as I was and had nowhere to go nor, were they even attempting to get out of the rather uncomfortable and unsavoury weather conditions.  Instead, they appeared to be making the best of the situation with each other as company.

Does misery love company?  Does company make misery any easier to handle?  What was making the difference between the laughter of these men who had nothing and the business people walking with warm coffees, cell phones, blue tooths and car keys in their hands, ready to get into a dry, warm car and likely head to a warm, dry home somewhere?

I stood for a couple of moments, discreetly watching these men as their voices carried through the air.  It appeared as though they were recounting stories of other days that they had lived and doing so, with great fondness.  Each one of them taking joy and laughter out of the other’s accounts, seemingly totally oblivious to their physical state.  It was as though their tales and laughter had carried them away from their current moment, helping them to forget that they were homeless, wet and likely as chilled as I was feeling at that point in time.  The difference being, they had been out there for hours in the elements whereas, I had only been out in them for a few minutes.

As I entered my warm, dry home, stripping my wet coat off, kicking off my soggy shoes and heading for the bathroom to grab a clean, fresh towel, I couldn’t help but think of these men who were likely still in the same spot I had seen them while both going and coming back in my travels.  Here I was drying off, changing into warm, comfortable clothing and about to figure out what to make for dinner.  I wondered if these men would even have a dinner that night or any other evening for that matter.  I knew that I would never know.

As I laid in bed that night, comfy, dry, warm, stomach full and satisfied, I thought again about these men, knowing that there were many more like them around this planet who were and are in the same or similar states.  They have nothing while so many of us have everything that we need and more and yet, they appeared happier than a lot of those whom I had passed or had passed me by that day.

What makes that difference?

Why is it that a lot of us who have seemingly everything, can’t find a way to be happy while others, who have nothing and live miserable lives by comparison, can still find happiness?

Is it that they don’t know what it’s like to live any differently so they don’t know what they’re missing?  Or, is it that they’ve found something that all of the material possessions and comforts in the world cannot bring us?

Could a lack of materialism and comfort cause us to find a spiritual source of contentment that we lose when we have so much to distract us from spirit?  Are we causing ourselves to be unhappy by losing sight of what’s really important as we strive to have more and more material acquisitions, bigger houses, better cars, climb the corporate ladders, strive for more lavish vacations, become swallowed up by technology and forgetting the value of simple laughter and friendship?

Are we slowly losing the art of being human?

Have we gone so far from our spiritual selves that we are moving further away from the ability to find happiness?

I drifted off to sleep that night with those questions running through my mind and I am still thinking but, that’s another blog entry for another day as I also continue to ask myself whether we should be questioning the saying, “there but, for the Grace of God go I” for it may be that we need to ask ourselves, “there, with the Grace of God, go they for they can teach us what we have lost”.

 

 

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