Essays · Strangers

Handed a Flyer by a Stranger

For reasons I might get into at a later date, this week has been pretty emotionally taxing. There’s a lot going on, but thankfully many of the sources of stress have not been exasperated by people being jerks. So good job, world!

Tonight I wanted to offer up a slightly different kind of reflection, one that might be more in the vein of being kind as opposed to not being an asshole.

Today, I spent a few minutes participating in a vigil with WHEEL. Whenever a person experiencing homelessness dies outside or due to violence, the following Wednesday these women stand in silence for an hour, witnessing for the life that was lost. Last week, a member of a community my dear friend works closely with died, and so I felt compelled to be there to support her in her grief as she stood vigil.

Tobias died last week. She was, by all accounts, full of life in spite of very challenging circumstances. I only met her once, and very briefly, but she still left a strong impression on me. So today I chose to join my friend and others in remembrance. We all held Tobias’s photo – a great one, with a wide smile as though caught mid-laugh – while two individuals stood on the street handing out a sheet of paper explaining what was going on. I was only able to be there for the last fifteen minutes, but those few minutes strongly affected me.

This is where the advice comes in. Folks, I know we are all busy, and there is a lot of information coming at us. I myself have refused papers people have handed me on the street. But I wanted to offer that you consider, for a moment, taking the paper the next time someone hands it to you. You can read it – I hope you do – but you can also simply put it in your bag or pocket and recycle it later.

Yes, it’s possible someone might be handing you sheet of paper related to something horrible without you realizing it – in which case, I encourage you to hand it back – but it’s also possible that they might be sharing with you someone’s life story, the story of someone who died who didn’t need to, the story of someone who was loved and who should not be forgotten. By taking that sheet of paper, you might learn about someone in your community, and might have a chance to think about some of the real challenges we are facing in keeping our neighbors without a home safe.

You aren’t a jerk if you don’t take the sheet of paper, or don’t pause to witness the silent vigil marking the passing of yet another person experiencing homelessness. But if you take the flyer, if you witness the moment, you are definitely doing something kind.

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