Have you ever met someone just a few times who then stays in your thoughts for years? A couple of years ago I was approached at the Post Office by a man who asked me for money. He was very young looking, probably about 22 or 23, and seemed extremely uncomfortable. There was something vulnerable and sweet about him that made me stop. I told him I’d have to check, since I seldom carried cash. He responded with an apology, then told me he was embarrassed but was hungry and really needed money to get some lunch. I told him I was glad he was embarrassed, because that feeling would motivate him to try hard to get a job and not have to ask strangers for money. Then he really opened up and told me he was trying to get a job, but before anyone would accept his application he had to have some ID. His California ID was supposed to arrive in about four more days, and then he could start applying for work at all the fast food places around. He even told me his name was Travis, shook my hand, and thanked me for what I gave him. I told him he reminded me of my grandson, and that if my grandson was in a similar situation I hoped someone would help him as well.
A few days later I saw Travis again, same place and same circumstances. I immediately said “Hi Travis,” and he stepped back, his face closed up into a defensive look. With a suspicious tone, he asked me how I knew his name. I reminded him of our previous conversation, and his posture changed completely. He remembered me, relaxed and started chattering away, even pulling out the new ID to show me. That started a pattern that continued for a few weeks. He always remembered me and would light up with a big smile. We’d talk about all kinds of things, and he always told me about the status of his different job applications. Sometimes I’d have money for him, other times I wouldn’t, but the warmth and conversations were always the same. I found myself looking for Travis on my daily Post Office trips. It was a pleasure talking to him, but I always hoped to hear he finally had a job.
One day I realized it had been weeks since I’d seen him, and all I could do was send mental prayers that he was happily working somewhere and finally improving his life. I know there are many, much darker possible reasons for Travis’ absence that people have told me are actually more likely to be true than my rosy vision, but I just hope that he is doing well, wherever he is.
For some reason Travis has stayed in my mind, and I’ve talked about him a lot. He had a special feeling about him, a mixture of warmth, innocence, sweetness, and vulnerability that was impossible to resist. I worry that if he is still out on the street, he might have been beaten down, obscuring those characteristics I felt from him. Professionals have told me that one of the hardest things in life for the homeless and disabled is the feeling that they’ve become invisible. How awful to feel and believe you mattered so little that people could look right through you and not even see you. How painful and lonely that would be.
Now when I see someone sitting on the sidewalk or am approached by someone looking for help, I can’t help but think of Travis. We shared something special, and I will always remember him and what he taught me. I still rarely carry cash, but I can always take the time to look someone directly in the eyes, smile and say hi.