While walking towards the bus stop on Ximeno and PCH, where I will be boarding the 171 to Seal Beach, I see an old man already seated there. His hair is gray and a bit grimy, his face unshaven and it seems as if he’s been wearing his military jacket for days. From the looks of it, he may have been sleeping on the streets. As I get nearer, I also notice a rusty cane rested against the metal bus stop. I sit next to him.
As the Sunday Morning station on my Pandora playlist blasts through my ears, I notice the man’s mouth moving as he looks my direction.
“I’m sorry, what was that? “I say as I take off my earphones.
“The bus should get here pretty soon,” he replies.
Having no qualms about striking up conversations with strangers, I ask him for his name and where he’s headed.
His name’s Alford, a war veteran who has spent all his life in the military, and he’s suffered through and survived five wars. He is currently on his way to the Veteran’s Hospital in Long Beach where he says he is probably going to wait a good 8 hours just to see a doctor. You see about 12 months ago, he was told that he has liver cancer, and he’s already undergone five rounds of chemotherapy. As he explains all of this, my heart can’t help but go out to this man who has had such a rough time in life.
“Do you live near here?” I ask.
“Yeah. I used to live with my brother but we got kicked out because we couldn’t come up with rent. I live in a motel now but I don’t know how long that will last. If I end up on the streets it’s okay. I have a blanket anyway.”
I ask more about his condition, and as he talks about what it’s been like going through his sickness alone, his eyes get watery. My eyes brim with tears as well. I ask him if he wants a hug, and without waiting for his answer, I sit closer to him and embrace him without hesitation, letting the teardrops fall from both our eyes. I tell him that everything’s going to be okay, and he says he knows it will. When we hug, I cannot help but feel sorry for his tired soul.
In my mind I picture what this man probably goes through on a daily basis. The suspicious stares, people walking the other direction when they see him coming, those quick to label him as a “crazy bum” or an “alcoholic” without bothering to think of what hell this person might have gone through. Face it. Humanity can be pretty cruel sometimes. The thought of this affects me so much that I hug him tighter.
My mind is trying to come up with ways to help him. Honestly, all I want to do is take him home with me, tuck him in bed and make him some hot chocolate with marshmallows. Anything to make him feel better. But obviously, I am no position to do this. Instead, I blurt out the most feasible thing that comes to mind.
“Do you want to have breakfast with me?” I ask.
“I would hun but it’s just hard for me to keep anything down with the chemo.”
I open my wallet and check the cash I have on me. Nothing. “Well if you just wait here for a bit I can walk to the ATM real quick and give you some cash.”
“It’s okay hun, what you have done for me today is more than what money could ever buy.”
These words pierce through my heart, and in that moment I feel lucky to have been given a chance to hear this man’s story. I know that I will never fully understand the pain and suffering that he’s gone through in life, but I hope that I was able to lift him of some of his burden even if just for a little while. Hopefully, I was able to show him that there are people in this world that still care.
As I board the 171 and bid him a goodbye, I can only hope that life gets better for him. I wish the world would be kinder, more empathetic, more compassionate. I don’t know where he’ll end up or where I will end up for that matter, but what I know is that this tender moment with him will stay with me forever.