Most people tend to focus on the differences between themselves and those around them. Especially when the exterior differences are very obvious. When one considers the chronically homeless this is evident. The poor hygiene, substance abuse, mental illness combined with their status in life make most people want to avoid them at all costs.
I have one friend on the street who is almost as different as it’s possible to be. He has a very loud personality and refuses to be ignored. With mental issues, substance addiction, and constantly blaming everyone else for his problems, even the only people trying to help, there did not seem to be anything we really had in common other than enjoying card games. This is how I saw him for the first couple months I knew him.
In a single encounter everything changed. One day he was ranting to me about everything he had been through. Amidst all his experiences I couldn’t relate to, I noticed that almost everything he was saying was in some way related to his sister, and how all he has ever wanted to do is take care of her. All of a sudden my vision of him changed.
I realized for the first time how similar he and I are. We both care deeply about those close to us, and are willing to do anything to protect them. Anger issues, the ability and willingness to persevere through hard times, and so many other things seemed to unite us in that moment. Despite the plethora of differences, for a brief moment we were the same person.
This moment of unity changed how I see all my friends on the street. I have begun noticing the similarities more and the differences less. They are no longer homeless, not simply “friends on the street”, they are real people, real friends, who just happen to be on the street.