For some unfortunate reason, many libraries are becoming increasingly noisier places, not at all the old “shhh” environments that existed years ago where wrinkled librarians waggled their fingers back and forth at you for even thinking too loud. Despite this change, there’s something about libraries that puts me in the mood to write, not to mention the mountains of traditional research that can be scoured up. This morning I was doing some work at a library in a relatively large city. I have generally found that periodicals rooms are the best places to get things done as the number of people that read physical newspapers continues to decline, leaving these areas the quietest.
I normally try to write 1500-2000 words per day. Sometimes, hitting my goal takes as little as two hours and as many as ten to twelve. This morning I was off to a pretty good start, knocking down my first 1,000 in a little over an hour. That’s when I heard these two women talking to my left. We were separated by a book shelf, so I couldn’t see them. I try not to listen to other people’s conversations, but sometimes it’s hard not to, particularly in a library. I appreciated the fact that at least one of them was trying to whisper, but the other one was significantly louder, dominating the conversation and following the bulk of her statements up with a stuttering laugh that has an above-average ability to get on someone’s nerves. Had the topic of their conversation not left the fate of mankind hanging in the balance, I probably would have left earlier.
They were arguing over the color of a crayon.
The quiet one claimed the crayon was red and the louder one insisted it was blue, building her case by insisting that “Aunt Bree” agreed with her. This went on for close to fifteen minutes which, in a library, seems like a month. I finally waved the white flag of surrender and packed up my laptop and decided to head off to another part of the library. When I went around the book shelf on my way out, the two of them were continuing their debate.
Make that the one of them. A homeless woman.
In many big cities, libraries and free city buses are huge places of refuge for the homeless and though they are not always easy to spot, this one was. Her short, salt and pepper hair was greasy and unkempt, her hands were dirty, and she was wearing a tattered winter coat despite it being seventy-six degrees at ten in the morning. She was sitting alone at the table with a newspaper and what looked like a plastic bag of personal belongings in front of her. When she saw me, she froze and “the conversation” immediately ended. She just stared at me with blank eyes that made me feel like it was my first day on the planet. For those that know me, they will agree that I am rarely at a loss for words, but I didn’t have the faintest idea what to say to this woman, so I simply nodded at her and then slid between a pair of bookshelves, knowing I was without any ability whatsoever to mind my own business. When I was out of her sight, the conversation immediately resumed, so I found a place to watch and listen.
Every time the quiet one talked, she lowered her head and spoke softly. Then her head would kick back up, she would lift the newspaper, pat on it with her other hand as if she were a lawyer in court providing evidence, and then fire back loudly that “the crayon is blue.”
I wanted to know who she was talking to.
I wanted to know where her family was.
I was thankful I had my family.
Then I realized I used to be one of those people that thought most homeless people were either lazy, crazy, on drugs, or just simply indifferent to changing how they live. Whenever I saw a homeless person on the street and was asked for a dollar, I’d usually give them one and then wonder if I was really helping them at all. Did that money go for food, booze … drugs? And was giving them money encouraging them to continue to beg? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Probably both depending on the person.
The truth of the matter is the answers to those questions aren’t important. What is important is figuring out how homelessness happens and what we can do to help.
We all have our stories. People lose their jobs, they lose their relationships with their families, and they lose sobriety by getting hooked on drugs to manage a seemingly unbearable life. But what the majority of homeless people lose is something that is much more important and impossible to live without for too long.
They lose hope.
Relationships, sobriety, and mental health can be restored. Reconnecting most homeless people with society is something that can happen, but it won’t happen unless they believe it can happen.
From now on, whenever I see a homeless person, I’m going to try to give them something much more valuable than a dollar. I’m going to try to give them hope.
I’d love to get your help here and hear your ideas. What would you do to give hope to a homeless person?
Please tell us below what you’d do to give hope and you’ll be entered to win a copy of THE REASON
About William Sirls
Over the course of his life, William Sirls has experienced both great highs and lows-some born of chance, some born of choice. Once a senior vice president at a major investment firm, he was incarcerated in 2007 for wire fraud and money laundering, where he learned a great deal more than he bargained for. Life lessons involving faith, grace, patience, and forgiveness are evident in his writing. He is the father of two and makes his home in southern California.
WHAT DOES GOD LOOK LIKE?
Welcome to southeast Michigan and the small town of Carlson where faith, hope, and struggle are defined by the different faces of those who live there. An addict that sits at a bar to forget.
A mother whose five-year-old boy has leukemia. Two doctors. An atheist haunted by his past and a brilliant young oncologist that places all her hope in the power of modern medicine. A blind pastor whose son hasn’t spoken a single word in thirty-eight years.
But the minister sees by faith. He knows there are answers and believes that someone who cares is watching—someone with a greater purpose. Yet there is something he doesn’t know… that none of them know. In the midst of the ordinary and the devastat- ing, there is a reason these lives will be changed forever. Lightning is about to strike.
The Reason opens with a thunderbolt and never lets up as it introduces us to everyday characters who are wrestling with questions: Where is God when bad things happen? Does God ignore the prayers of the faithful? The answer each character receives will astound readers while offering an unforgettable call to hope, to change, and to believe.
Inspirational [BroadStreet, On Sale: April 1, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781424551361 / eISBN: 9781424551378]