Recently, I had the opportunity to meet and interview a man named Lane Nelson. I was sent to the interview with no prior knowledge of this man, only the fact that he was homeless. When I first saw him I noticed that we had several physical differences, like his badly groomed beard and his Pink Floyd shirt that sheltered his portly stomach.
Before I was to start the interview I knew that a proper introduction would be necessary. I was reluctant on the inside to shake his hand, not knowing where he had been or what he had been doing. Ashamed as I was for feeling like that, I knew it must be the way the majority of people felt, for he didn't shake my hand when I finally extended it before him.
We sat down and I began asking my prepared questions. I asked him to describe a typical day in his life. His reply was shocking to me, being a young woman from a small, sheltered town. His day begins at four o'clock in the morning when he waits in a line for the shelters to open. He eats a bite for breakfast and is thrown back into the streets at six o'clock a.m., forcing him to wander around for warmth. Often, he finds himself in the library taking a nap or reading a book. Around four o'clock in the afternoon he returns to a line at the shelter, praying that they will have a bed for him to sleep in that night. If they do, he sleeps in safety. But if the shelter is booked, he walks the streets searching for a place to sleep overnight.
Another depressing story was revealed to me later in the interview. Two of Lane's friends were killed. One fell asleep in a dumpster and was crushed when the trucks came to pick up the trash. Another one of his friends was hit by a car while he was standing inches away from Lane in a line to buy alcohol. Even more devastating, Lane's brother was killed.
The winter time for Lane is pure horror. There are very few places he can go to keep warm and few pieces of clothing he can cover up with. At one point in the interview, Lane even said that all in all, his life hasn't been too rough.
Leaving the interview is when I felt a sudden wave of selfishness. Just hours before the interview I had been upset because I left my lunch money at home, and had to go a few more hours without food. A day before, I had been angry with a friend for not returning a phone call. How could I be so self-involved not to realize that what I consider problems are merely splices of importance? My problems don't even compare with the treachery that Lane is forced to face from day to day.
The life I live is in complete contrast from his. For me, the winter time is a warm, cozy season, holding memories of Christmas and family bonding. I have a place to sleep when the weather plummets to below freezing temperatures and I have a place that I can call home - a place where I eat hearty meals and where I feel love in my house every season, year round.
A major part of me wanted to take Lane home and open up a whole new world for him. I wanted Lane to experience what I have been so fortunate to live with on a daily basis. I wanted to put some touches of being human into his life. I can still hear him saying, "All in all, my life hasn't been that rough." I just marvel at those words. I guess the word "rough" can hold several interpretations. He could adapt to my interpretation, but I, in contrast, could never adapt to his.
Abby's essay, excerpted here was entered in the 1996 PTSA "Reflections" contest under the title, My Life Vs. the Homeless. The essay was judged best in state of Missouri and went on to a national competition.
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