There is a guy who stands by the freeway entrance I often use - not on a daily basis, but several times a week. Enough so that I'm pretty sure he's there every day. He has a sign, a small cardboard one, asking for money. I have never given him any, although I feel a twinge of guilt every time I don't. Reports are that people who have tried to give him food say he refuses it and asks for money instead, but I don't know for sure if this is true.
If statistics are in any way correct, chances are high that this man suffers from some kind of mental illness, given the high percentage of various mental disorders among the homeless.
I'm not a very sentimental person, really. Even when I was pregnant, I wasn't especially weepy over Hallmark commercials or old people walking down the street holding hands. I'm just not very sappy. There are exceptions, of course - I got all misty-eyed fifteen minutes ago watching that youtube-marriage-proposal-video by some guy named Ian, who is indeed, a romantic bad-ass - but, for the most part, I'm a realist. I haven't gotten particularly more emotional since I had a baby, either. I don't know why this is, but there you have it.
I know perfectly well that all kinds of babies come into the world when they are not particularly wanted, or loved, or understood. It's ridiculous to imagine that every child born in this world is born into a delighted, happy family eager to welcome it home. Children are abused, and neglected, in a million horrible and unimaginable ways, and this has always been terrible, and always will be.
So I am not trying to be cheesy and greeting-card-saccharine when I say that, very often since my daughter was born, my first thought when I see Homeless Guy By the Freeway Entrance is, "where is your mom?" Everybody is somebody's baby. I wonder where he grew up; whether he was loved, wanted, welcomed, cherished. What his first birthday celebration was like. His first day of school. Whether anybody kept his first pair of shoes and the art project he made for Mother's Day in second grade. Whether somebody tucked him into bed at night and read him stories and told him they loved him to the moon and back.
Maybe not. Maybe his childhood was a hell, not a paradise, and home a place he was perfectly happy to walk away from as soon as possible.
Or maybe he was loved and nurtured and somewhere, somebody still has his baby shoes - but he was ill in such a way that he couldn't stay in his family, so he is standing by the freeway instead, hoping somebody will give him enough to eat and sleep. Or possibly get drunk. (See? Not sentimental.)
Yesterday, a few miles from where I live, someone who suffers from mental illness took a gun, went into a coffee shop, shot several people, carjacked and killed someone else, and finally shot himself. His family, being interviewed today, says that they tried and tried to get him help. If you have ever tried to get help for a mentally ill family member or friend, you know: this is not easy. You can't force it on anyone. And there are not a lot of safety nets out there.
What this guy did was awful. There's no excuse for it. There's no way to make it anything less than a reprehensible crime, for which he is responsible.
And yet he, too, was somebody's baby. Today I am thinking about his mother, along with the other grieving mothers, who are holding onto those first grade art projects and baby shoes. I hold my own daughter and I think about how lost I would be if something happened to her - if she went into a coffee shop one sunny Wednesday and never came out - and how deeply dark and awful it would be if I lost her, instead, to an illness that turned her into someone I no longer recognize. What would we do? Would there be anybody to help?
I don't have answers to any of this, except that I hope and pray my baby grows up to help turn this world into a less broken place than it feels today.