This morning was quite an unusual one for me. I had plenty to do, which is par for the course. I needed to go get some cash to tip the cleaning people who are coming later, to stop at the rental office to order some maintenance work and request a wall be painted and also needed to eat. People tell me that I don't eat enough. You haven't seen my belly. But I digress...
I stopped into Burger King because I love their Eggnormous Burrito. It has the trappings of a great breakfast for me- the eggs, ham and bacon along with some less healthy things (the potatoes kill it as a diet item for me). The person who took my order informed me it was his first day and he was a jolly, boisterous and flamboyant man who couldn't have made it more clear what his preference was. I found him extremely entertaining for some reason, but this could be because I was just in an oddly good mood after a long night of work and some naughtiness.
He told me to go have a seat and that he would bring my food out to me and my choice of seat placed me in the front show for what I would have though was an episode of WWE Smackdown- Homeless Edition. I hadn't really noticed the two until the scuffle, but this older man who smelled of manure randomly goes up to this 19 year old kid and shoves him. The kid begins crying assault and I think to myself that the entire display was rather juvenile. Until the kid goes outside to call the police and the man grabs all of the kid's belongings and walks outside, throwing them over the railing and onto the street.
That was when I realized that was all the kid had. All of his belongings in a back pack and two white garbage bags. I was staring at myself, ten years ago and nothing seemed happy or funny any longer. I felt his pain and anguish. I felt his shame. When you carry all that you belong on your back, you can feel the eyes. They burn into your soul, even if you can't see them or don't look.
People know what you are and they begin to write your own story for you-- assuming you are there because you are lazy or an addict or a failure. On top of that, the kid was attacked by a mental case who proceeded to talk in jibberish until he was told to leave. The kid remained out front, talking on a phone he borrowed to call the police. That was when the jolly, flaming cashier arrived with my food. How could I eat after witnessing that display?
I needed to do something, so I reached into my wallet and grabbed one of my business cards, telling the boisterous one I was okay when he asked as I headed for the door. I went out and handed it to the kid, telling him if I wasn't there when the cops arrived, I could be contacted for my statement. I was only five feet away from it all. Then I went back in and waited. The kid returned, disheveled from it all and visibly defeated. I asked him if he had eaten and he gave me a deflective response. I told him I would buy him whatever he wanted from the menu. He was too ashamed to accept my offer.
I sat back down. I noticed how slow I was eating. I just wasn't very hungry. As the kid sat waiting and the workers cleaned up that foul manure smell, I began to build rapport with the kid. I opened by talking about how the other guy needed help and was probably hopped up on drugs and homeless. That led the kid to admit that he was- without never using that despicable word. It was then I told him that I was in his exact position and if he wanted to, he would be able to get out. We were chips off the same block, products of broken homes and parents who had made terrible choices. We couldn't control any of that, but we could control ourselves.
He asked me what I did and I explained it. We spoke about dogs- what I was doing with Oliver and the dogs he had but sadly needed to put down. I shared a poem about losing dogs and I learned more about his efforts to get out of his situation. He was getting ready to join a program that gave people a place to stay and the on the job training they needed to establish themselves in an area they desired to work. He wanted to pursue a culinary career- something that I once considered doing. I was staring in a mirror and I began to wonder what I would have wanted back then.
I really wanted to help him. I remembered my own stubbornness when I was homeless. I was too proud to go back home because they would rub it in. So I remained in that position for much longer than I needed to, even though I did eventually rise from my ashes. I explained to him that I could help if he ever wanted advice, because I got out and he could too with hard work. As I was leaving, I reached into my wallet. I never have cash on me except when I tip those cleaning people. This was no coincidence.
I told him to take the twenty I offered-- that he would get hungry eventually. The look in his eyes was flooded with emotion. He wanted it so much but was too proud. He didn't want to admit he was in a position to take help. But I said "I have plenty. Take it. Get some food and enter that program. Call me if you ever need to know how to get over a hurdle." He finally took it, saying no one had ever been so generous. I just said that it isn't worth having while others suffer.
On my way home, it occurred to me to share this experience. It reminded me of the power that shame has always had in my life and I could see the crippling power it had on this kid. Shame is a killer because it deflates our self worth and paralyzes us when we need to reach out. There is a humility you learn from it, but only when you finally ask for and accept the help you need. You see, it is pride that turns shame into quicksand-- consuming us as we try so desperately to fix a problem without the help we need and the help that is being offered to us.
How many times have you not said something to someone because you don't feel worthy? How many times have you hidden your emotions because you felt you would be judged for them? How many times have you rejected the assistance you needed only to be worse off for it? Shame is a killer as it keeps us from being open and honest. It is the antithesis of propinquity as it forces you to build walls instead of overcome them and pushes others away instead of inviting them in.
When you need help or want to express feelings that you fear will be responded to with judgement, you need to remember that shame is what is holding you back. You will never receive the help you require or know how the other person feels unless you swallow your pride and ask for help or make those feelings known. People are unable to help you or know how you feel unless you tell them what you need.
I look back on all of the things I've done in my life for which I have shame-- those dark passengers in my closet that remind me I will never be a good person. They all feed on my shame and when I looked into my own eyes today, I realized where I came from once more-- that I have actually made progress in my life and accomplished things through dedication and hard work. That for whatever guilt I bear over my past, I now have the power to make a difference. The only thing that has been holding me back all this time is shame.