Interactions with the homeless put life in perspective

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By Tessa Weinberg

He eyed us warily as we walked over to him under the beating afternoon sun. And he had a right to do so.  Imagine two teenage girls, dressed in running clothes, nervously picking their way through the park with only a Pancake Breakfast ticket in hand.  But despite our questionable appearance, we had good intentions.  We were hoping to feed the homeless.

Every year, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) hosts its annual Pancake Breakfast that students and families flock to in droves to get their share of unlimited pancakes.  As an event that is meant to fundraise and benefit the sports teams, the Pancake Breakfast asks athletes to sell tickets.

But trying to find a way to sell the idea of waking up early for a few pancakes and a good cause makes selling these tickets a difficult task.  One of my teammates hadn’t yet sold her tickets and mentioned it to our coach, who then suggested, “Why don’t you give your tickets to a homeless person?”

And we did just that.  As runners on the school’s cross country team, we often practice on trails and different routes outside of school to get in the mileage.  The Northridge Park is one of our go-to practice areas, and it’s also a go-to spot for several local homeless people as well.

We always run past one man in particular, whether he was taking a nap or sitting at the tables.  Knowing where he was likely to be, we decided we would attempt to offer him the chance at a hot meal.

We had planned out what we were going to say as if we were memorizing a script and anxiously walked over to where the man sat.  He wore a beanie and rolled an aluminum can over scattered coffee grinds at the picnic tables.

After introducing ourselves, the man went from dubious to approachable and welcoming as he asked about what it was like for us on the cross country team.

But now came the hard part.  We thrust the Pancake Breakfast ticket out and offered it to him, explaining that it was already paid for and all he had to do was show up.  But the man didn’t readily accept the ticket like I had expected.

He kept his hands firmly rooted on the table in front of him and his forehead creased as he knitted his brows together thinking things over.  When he spoke again he was hesitant, considering our offer by posing questions about the number of people expected to attend, if he would be allowed in and if the ticket was free.  He didn’t overlook any detail, confirming the time of the event, and repeating questions as he seriously considered as to whether he should attend or not.

He kept repeating, “I don’t think that will be good for me,” as he shook his head.  After receiving the reassurance he needed, he eventually did take the ticket, saying he would try and make it.

Although I didn’t see him while I was at the Pancake Breakfast, I did see another local homeless man get in line for some pancakes.  He had a shopping cart full of his belongings by his side.

Interacting with that homeless man at the park was an emotional experience that put my own life into perspective.  Hearing the man’s concerns and reservations towards little things that I normally would have overlooked, illuminated the vast differences in our situations.  As I witnessed his apprehensions firsthand, I also saw the precautions he had to take.  It made me wonder what was really so difficult in my own relatively comfortable life.

While I worry about college applications and my biology grade, this man is trying to figure out where he will get his next meal and if he should accept an offer of hospitality.  My problems seem far less challenging in comparison and I can’t imagine what that man, and so many in a situation similar to his, has to deal with on a daily basis.

After the man hesitantly took the ticket, we walked out of the park when another homeless man sitting nearby shared with us that he had gone to Cleveland High School back in 1977 and had been on the track and field team there.  He went on to reminisce about how his grades weren’t so good, and his parents had always been on top of him for that.  It hit me then, that in twenty or thirty years, there’s a chance that we could see some of the people that we go to high school with now sitting in a park with all of their possessions and nowhere to go.

Although we can’t all go out and approach homeless men and offer them tickets to unlimited pancakes, each of us will hopefully get a chance to empathize with another person’s uniquely personal struggle to better understand someone else.

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