• I'm Jesse
      • My Birthday?
      • You Remembered!
• Pool? Animal Style!
      • Dumplings w/Neptune
• Sicilian Sculptor
• The Golden Years
• Human Hangers
• Just a Barista
• I Need to Dance
• Can't Stop Looking Up
• Be Careful What...
• The Collection
• Into the Light
• A Perfect Interview
• The Abbey
• Who You Know?
• What's This Life For?
• Unexpected Talent
• Just a Dog's Day
• Chester
• Darren
      • Darren and the Circus
• Voice of God
• Aaron
• 5350

• Resurrection
• Private Dancer
• Eye Contact
• Bullying
• The Surreality of It All
• Sound of Silence
• 31 Days of Christmas
• Giant!
• Fear or Comfort?
• You're Different
• Another One Bites...
• Stroll with the Clouds
• Walking with Banshee

What's This Life For? (12/01/20)

One frigid December morning, a couple of friends and I were walking into our local store to get groceries, looking forward to our weekend shopping adventure. Unlike many, we all enjoyed grocery shopping. It provided time to talk, banter and just let go of the stresses that are part of everyday life, while taking care of a necessity—we had 8 people to shop for.

As we got out of the car and started walking toward the carts, we noticed off to the side of the door to the store a guy sitting cross-legged on the ground, not moving, dressed in dirty rags that could be barely labeled as clothes. In between his feet, in shoes that had holes exposing his bare, dirty flesh, was a plastic cup, with what appeared to be a few coins.

We watched as others walked by this obviously homeless guy and glanced down, yet continued walking, with an occasional person dropping a few more coins into his cup. The guy never moved.

As we got closer, I was disturbed to overhear one lady telling her friend that she "gave the homeless guy 75 cents and he didn't even say thank you." Like that 75 cents was going to help him in any way?

We were more concerned than normal because it was freezing outside, at least by SoCal standards, in the low 40s, and he was sitting on the ground without anything between him and the cold concrete—though I suppose the ground was warmer than the wind that was blowing at that time.

He had no jacket on, only a t-shirt covered by a torn flannel shirt, and what looked like a pair of dockers, all of which had seen many days, if not weeks of wear without cleaning. His clothing could have only provided minimal covering against the climate.

Though I had no idea what I might be getting myself into, and without even asking my friends if offering assistance was a good idea, I walked up, and though not sure what I was going to do or say, just simply asked the guy if there was anything we could do to help, other than toss a few coins in his cup?

As he slowly looked up at me with a blank look on his face, I realized my question was not thought through—I knew what he really needed. I felt bad, so rephrased my question “what can we do to help?” I knew he needed something to eat, a hot shower, new clean clothes, and more important at this particular time, a warm place to stay.

He continued to look at me with his blank stare, as if have conscious, didn’t say a word. OK, if you won’t talk, then I will. I struggled with what to say, not knowing any history behind this poor guy freezing on the sidewalk but gathered the courage to just offer what I felt we could offer and let him decide from there.

I told him we could take him to our house where he could get a warm shower, get his clothes cleaned and provide him some addition clothing, get a some warm meals, and just provide the rest of the basics so he could get back to some semblance of normality. He would have the ultimate say in what we could do for him, though. Sure, we could hand him some money, but was that really going to be what mattered?

“My name is Greg” were the first words we got from him. “I would really appreciate the help.”

Though it really shouldn’t matter, I did have the health and safety of others at the house to think about, so I politely asked Greg if he had any drug and alcohol issues we should be aware of.

He looked at me again, and without any emotion or concern, told me what I had heard before from other homeless folks we had assisted, “I can barely afford to collect enough change to get a full meal each day.” I felt a little disrespectful that I had asked, but I needed to know.

Two of us walked up next to him and reached out to help him get up from his seated position. At first he took our hands, but his grip was extremely weak, so we reached for his arm and helped him slowly to his feet.

Greg was doing his best at attempting to stand, but only stood up halfway, bent over at the waste—looking a lot like I do when my back goes out. Sitting on the concrete in the cold had really done a number on his body, and he moved slowly just getting himself to a semi-upright position.

We all introduced ourselves and told him our house was only a few miles away and we’d have him there shortly, as we helped him walk to the curb. Our friend Nick has gone to get his truck and pulled up next to us, as we assisted helping Greg into the back seat.

As soon as I got in, I turned the heater up as high as it could go, and we started the drive home.

The ride to the house seemed to take forever, though was only a 10-minute journey. The silence though was noticeable. As we pulled into the driveway, and opened the back door, I noticed Greg was looking at the house like we had pulled up to the front of some palace—I guess to him this was more than he expected, and he looked at me with those still lost eyes and simply said "thank you.”

We pulled into the driveway, I realized I had the heater in the truck blasting at full and apologized for it being so warm. After I said that, Greg laughed slightly and told us it was the best thing he’d felt in quite a long time.

All of us slowly walked up to the front door, assisting Greg up the handful of stairs. I warned Greg that in addition to the 4 guys living at the house, there were 5 dogs, and that these dogs were particularly affectionate towards humans!

“Five dogs?” Greg asked curiously. “I love dogs.” That instantly made me feel better.

We opened the door, and all the dogs came running excitedly as they always did, each of them in their turn slowly backing off, and taking a sniff at our new guest, and sat down to get a good look, tales wagging away like we’d brought them a new friend.

As I looked at Greg, he appeared to be in his early 20s, but a very rough early 20s. I’d guessed right when he said he had just turned 25. I quickly thought back to when I was 25 but shook off any comparison. I obviously had different circumstances at that age.

I didn’t want to barrage Greg with questions, so I just let him know that part of helping out was letting him talk, and that once he was ready, if he felt like it, to feel free to just let go. We weren’t there to interrogate. Again, we got a simple thank you.

As we got Greg into the house, and closed the door, we couldn’t help but notice the smell emanating from him and his clothing—apparently the dogs noticed too. The heat from the truck seemed to have ‘enhanced’ the smell, even to the point of Greg mentioning it and asking if he could get to the bathroom, get a shower, and get some clean clothes.

We passed by the empty room that would be his for the duration of his visit, and proceeded to the bathroom, pointing out where everything he would need was located, and let him know we would have some clean clothes for him on the chair next to the bed.

As he once again said ‘thank you’ and started to close the door, we wondered if we should at least keep an eye on him, privacy being only a small concern of mine. We did just bring a complete stranger into our house.

To my surprise he only closed the door halfway, and our black lab Slate nuzzled her way into that space and laid down. I noticed Greg’s hand come down and gently pat her on the head. She knew better than to lick his hand, and just laid there with her tail wagging.

I brought Greg a bottle of Gatorade, thinking the electrolytes might be good for him, and handed it through the door and sat it on the sink. He came to the door and for the first time I saw a glint of life in his eyes as he opened the bottle and downed the entire thing. He looked shyly at me and asked if he could have a second bottle?

I brought him another bottle, got a thank you, and let him know if there was anything he needed, to just let Slate know, and she would come and get us. Slate’s tagged wagged more as she heard her name and looked up at me. But she wasn’t going to leave her current post.

“I really do appreciate you guys helping me. I was always thankful for the money people gave me, but it really didn’t do any good in helping me get out of my situation.”

That was an understatement.

We asked Greg if there was any type of food he didn’t want or was allergic to, as looked curiously out from the door. I realized that going from nothing to eat to having an entire kitchen at his disposal may have been a giant leap, but wanted to make sure we didn’t provide anything he didn’t like.

“I’ll eat anything you provide.”

I apologized for asking, explaining I was just trying to make we didn’t get him anything he didn’t want.

Greg smiled. “Don’t apologize. It’s probably not every day you bring home a stray off the streets. Anything you give me I appreciate. I really like broccoli though!” Broccoli, really, OK, that we have plenty of. I wondered to myself if he’d eat any of that damn kale the guys always ordered, and I couldn’t stand? Time would tell.

Walking away from the bathroom to allow Greg to do what he needed to do, I patted Slate on the butt, her tale still wagging away like a storm.

I realized Greg would need clothes and may not be comfortable wandering the hall in only a towel, so I went to his new room, grabbed some clothes, and piled them on the counter just inside the bathroom door.

I’d guessed his size, assuming because of his weight loss everything would be a little big, but included socks and boxers, shorts, several t-shirts and a sweatshirt and pair of sweatpants. He could chose what he was comfortable in.

I passed Nick in the hallway, wondering my he was shaking his head at me. “It’s going to take a week to get smell out of my truck.” He walked back out to the truck with a can or air freshener! That was a small price to pay for helping a fellow human in need—but then it wasn’t my truck. I chuckled.

After close to an hour, I heard some commotion coming from the bathroom, and out came Slate, head up high and tail wagging feverishly, followed closely by Greg.

Slate had spent the entire time at the bathroom door, only leaving when Greg was ready to come out. She came out apparently to announce Greg’s presence, then stopped and waiting till Greg caught up. He started petting her, and the immediate bond between the two didn’t go unnoticed. She had no fear of him, he had no fear of her.

“She’s beautiful.” Greg said.

“Yes, she is.” I said!

“She knows I’m hurting.” Greg responded.

“Yes, she does, and she’ll be there for you, just like she is always there for us, especially when we are having challenges with life."

Greg was standing upright a little better than when we found him. Knowing from previous encounters with homeless that they sometimes become very possessive of their belongings, I asked him if it was OK for us to take his clothes and put them in the laundry while he got something to eat.

He looked at me and with a bit of a smile said "I’ll take them to the washer if you point that direction. As far as the socks and underwear, I think it would be best to toss them in the garbage, outside." That was probably best, considering the smell still coming from his clothes.

I felt a little awkward, but again I needed to know, and asked if Greg if he had any mental or emotional challenges we needed to be concerned with. He surprised me when he told me “yes, he did have some issues he had problems with, but nothing we needed to worry about for our safety or his.”

Well, he still had his manners and his senses about him. He knew where I was going with the question without me having to ask in detail. I left it at that and brought him in the kitchen where he put the clothes he was going to keep in the washer and placed the others in the trash bin.

As we gathered some food and some more bottles of Gatorade for Greg, we noticed he cleaned up nicely. “Are you feeling a little better now?” I asked.

Greg seemed to be walking better, standing straighter, and looking like he was feeling a little bit better. Slate had stayed with him the entire time in the bathroom to ensure Greg had been fine, and Slate knew she had done what she should. She strutted around the house for the next couple of hours like she had been responsible for Greg’s ‘rescue!’

Greg told us the shower had felt so good once the pain had subsided, that the sores and rashes he had stung like crazy in the water, but he realized they would heal. We told him where the NeoSporin and body power were, and he proceeded back into the bathroom, with Slate prancing next to him.

As Greg walked into the kitchen, he ran his hands through his hair, which was now clean, but resembled a large mop, and asked us if we had a pair of scissors. "Uhm, no, we have people for that" was my immediate response, speaking with a little bit of arrogance. "Hang on a day or so and we’ll get our friend to come by and get you a proper haircut." I remember my friend Darren had told me he kept scissors in his backpack to make sure his hair was always trimmed. I guess one does what one has to.

Once again, I apologized to Greg for sounding ‘standoffish’ about his cutting his own hair, thankful that he understood there was nothing meant by it.

As was normal, as Greg settled down into one of our Lazyboy chairs, our lab Slate laid down next to him and put her head on his feet. He then started to tell the story about who he was, and how he had ended up in the situation he had been in.

After about an hour, he simply faded to sleep. I wanted to know he was fine, and just asleep, but didn’t want to be checking his pulse, when I realized I had my answer without asking. Slate too, had rolled onto her side, with her head still on his feet, and was also fast asleep.

Multiple hours passed with only slight movement from Greg, including rapid eye movement, which meant he was dreaming. I only guessed he hadn’t dreamed in a long time. I understood that sleep for the homeless was an evasive behavior, and infrequent at best.

When Greg woke up, he looked a little more refreshed, apologized for just falling asleep on us, but letting us know that was the best sleep he’d had in months. We had noticed!

He then asked, “what’s next?” I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant but let him know that he was welcome to stay at the house for as long as he wanted and as long as he needed. Our friend Darren proceeded to take over the conversation and tell Greg all about his 'rescue' from the street years earlier. Darren too had been homeless in the area and was now, almost 6 years later, doing extremely well and was a welcome part of the family.

Ask any of the dogs!

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, I realized what it was like to have kids. So many new experiences and stories to share, so much enthusiasm, interspersed with so much sorrow and sadness. Greg really had a rough couple of months out on the street, and the emotional and mental issues we were going to face with him were challenging.

Especially the nightmares and screams coming from him in the middle of the night. That took some getting used to, but they became less and less frequent as time passed, and as we got him to our regular therapist in our area.

I had always told the guys that "seeing a therapist doesn't mean you are crazy; it means you are making an effort to stay sane!" Our therapist helped Greg out tremendously.

Greg was going to prevail now that he had someplace to call home, and friends and resources to help him get through it all.

We were sitting around in the gallery a month or so after we brought Greg into the fold, and the video for Creed’s “What’s This Life For” came on. I think we’d figured that out!

Musical reference: What's This Life For, Creed

- - - - - - - - - - (updated 03/29/21)

Greg here! This story is Dave's version of bringing me into his group—and giving me a home. I am so grateful for everything this group of friends did for me and continue to do for me. They don't like the attention, but I just need to say, again, thank you! I know you know how much it means to me, everything you have done.

But the primary purpose of this message is to everybody and anybody that reads this story. Throughout life we all take for granted many things—far too many things. A roof over our head, consistent and healthy food to eat, a hot shower—just the beginning of what many should be grateful for and rarely even show any gratitude at all.

Far too many, not only in the United States, but around the world, go without the basics—food, shelter, hygiene.
I remember vividly the first day I was brought off the street and into Dave's house. I was extremely weak from being out in the cold and not having eaten a healthy meal in months, the first thing Dave wanted me to do was get in the bathroom and take a shower. The feeling of that warm water on my body was beyond description.

It hurt too, because I had some open sores, and rashes in places you never want rashes. But the overall feeling of being able to stand in that hot water for as long as I needed was beyond valuable. Now that is something I can do whenever I want, and something I definitely do not take for granted. I say 'thank you' every time I step into the shower.

The first day I got to sit in the warm house, in a comfortable chair, able to eat whatever I wanted from the kitchen, was priceless. And late that afternoon on the first day, when I was able to crawl into a comfortable, warm bed, and cover myself with the softest blankets I'd ever felt, again the feeling was beyond description.

I woke up momentarily a few hours later to find a beautiful, black lab nestled along side of me. She woke up also, gave me a big dog kiss, and we both fell back to sleep. This was another feeling beyond description. I no longer was waking up to chase away the spiders, bugs and other varmints that were always present when sleeping on the street.

It has now been a little over 3 months, I have a great job just down the street, have a great group of friends, and still all those things we should never take for granted—a beautiful place to live, all the food I could want (the guys tend to be health nuts, so really healthy food), and the ability to take a shower when I want.

And then to my surprise, one of the guys, though I won't mention Mike's name, bought me a truck. The guys were subversive about it, asking me several times what kind of vehicle I would get when I could afford one. One morning, the guys woke me up early, said there was something I needed to see, and brought me outside to this beautiful new truck, complete with a big red bow on top! Mike handed me the keys. Again, a feeling I could not describe.

So, what's this life for? Savor what you do have, be thankful for those things around you that you may take for granted. Be nice—actually, not just nice, but kind—to everyone and everything, people, animals, the planet. Stop obsessing over things that really are of no significance.

As the guys are always saying, "Being nice is a behavior, being kind is an action."

#homeless #creed #Greg #kind #kindness