There’s a man I know, a friend of mine, named “Billy”. Billy is older (about 70), and I’ve known him for about 5 years. I speak with him every week or two, but I don’t see him much as he lives a couple hours away. Billy is a bit different than most of my friends. First, he is about 30 years older than me, but most importantly- Billy is typically homeless and often hungry and cold.
He lives in various closed-up and abandoned houses, mostly with no electricity (or heat). It’s December now and last night I’m sure he slept in a cold house that was little warmer than the 18 degrees outside. He usually eats 1 (meager) meal per day, and sometimes when I’ve talked with him he has gone 3-4 days without food.
But, it doesn’t really bother him.
Billy has lived the kind of tragic life that could be the subject of a somber and dramatic movie:
- Many years ago he was married. But one night his young bride and infant son were killed in a road accident, by a drunk driver.
- He had bone cancer in one of his arms, and to this day in one of his arms he has no bone at all in his forearm. No rods. Its all just flesh and muscle and tissue.
- He has no family at all, except an estranged brother who lives halfway around the world that he has not seen in 20 years.
- He has spent better than half his life bouncing between abandoned houses, homeless shelters, the streets, and under bridges.
- He once owned and operated a successful mechanical business, but his plant caught fire during a lapse in his insurance, and he lost EVERYTHING (over $1 million), and suddenly had no money, no income, no assets, and no purpose.
Safe to say that Billy has led a life that should lead him straight to despair and self-pity. Truth be told, he did spend a couple of decades struggling with alcohol, but he has been sober for over 10 years now. When I speak with him, he is grateful for the air he breaths, for the beautiful nature of northern New England, for the few acquaintances that he has, and for the little things in life. He is not a regular Church-goer, but he does certainly believe in God and he tells me that when he gets frustrated or down he looks up to the sky and prays. He asks God for a little help, now and then.
Once in a while I try to help him, by giving him a few bucks or a pair of shoes, etc. But he hardly ever asks for anything, and when he does accept anything from me or anyone else he feels guilty and a bit ashamed.
But it is I that feel ashamed when I call him and complain that I had a rough day at the office, or I spent all Saturday mowing the lawn or something like that. I realize I am telling this to a man that has been through all that he has, and that doesn’t own 4 pairs of socks.
Most of us (in the United States) truly do have so much- yet we do not realize it. Getting to know Billy has opened my eyes. I can clearly see and appreciate that my life and its circumstances are quite good. I believe it would be a great thing if everyone personally knew someone like Billy. In many ways Billy does “need” our friendship, but perhaps I’m the one that needs it most of all.