Yolanda Reyna shares her moving encounter with someone less fortunate. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
By Yolanda “Yolie” Reyna
I normally don’t approach homeless people. In fact, I’ve always told my children not to get close to them for fear they might harm them. But a couple of weeks ago, I met a homeless man.
I was on my way to the bank. As I was driving into the parking lot, I immediately noticed a man wandering and approaching people as they walked out of the bank.
I parked and got out of my car, and then made my transaction at the machine. Then I realized that the man was panhandling. I kept watching him while I walked back to my car. He didn’t look like he was having any success.
He was neatly dressed and he walked with a slight hunch. One thing I did notice was that he did not approach me. So I got into my car and started to drive way.
Then I noticed that he was just about to cross in front of my car; I rolled my window down and said, “Excuse me, are you hungry?” He said, “I don’t want to trouble you.”
I said, “It’s no trouble.” He was a few feet away from my car. That’s when I got a good look at him. He looked weary, his teeth were decayed, and he needed a shave.
I said to him, “Can I buy you something to eat?” He said, “Yes, if it’s no trouble.”
“Not at all,” I said. I noticed a fast food place nearby and asked him to meet me there.
When I got out of my car, he was waiting for me. I asked his name and he told me, “Randy.” I told him my name was Yolanda.
When I suggested that we go inside, he said, “I can’t go inside because the lady said I am not welcome anymore.” So I asked him what he would like, and he told me, “A cup of coffee and a taco.”
When I brought him the food, I asked him politely, “May I pray with you?”
He answered softly, “Yes, you may.” I prayed and handed him a few dollars so that he could buy something to eat later in the day. I did not want to pry into his business as to what his situation was.
As we were about to part our separate ways, I said, “Maybe I’ll see you again. I usually stop here at the bank.” He said that would be nice. I wished him a good day and went on my way.
But while I was driving, I started to feel a strong compassion toward this man. I never expected to see him again, but as I drove my route up the street over the next few days, I kept thinking about him. I noticed when I drove, I’d look for him. I had made many stops at the bank and often thought about him. I actually felt like I was stalking him. I just could not get him out of my mind.
I couldn’t help but think, that for someone who was always afraid of homeless people, here I was obsessed with this man! Once again I realized that I was probably never going to see him again.
So I left it alone, until one day when I was driving home, I spotted him. He was walking down the street! I was so surprised and excited. I wanted to flag him down with a honk or a yell. But that would have been crazy. I felt like an obsessed, crazy woman.
I thought, maybe he’s hungry? I kept approaching red lights and was growing impatient as I was driving. I finally made my way down a street where I could meet up with him. I parked and grabbed a few dollars from my purse.
I walked up to the corner where he was headed. There I was, standing at the corner, waving to him! As he started to get closer, I yelled, “Randy?”
He looked at me and seemed puzzled. I said, “Do you remember me? I’m Yolanda; I met you a couple of weeks ago?”
He immediately said, “Yes, I do,” and with a smile on his face too.
“How are you?” I asked.
“I’m doing good,” he said, “I applied for Social Security and I’m waiting for an answer.”
“That’s wonderful!” I replied. “Well, I won’t take too much of your time. It was very nice seeing you again.” I handed him a few dollars.
Then I had a thought to write about this experience. So I said to him, “Randy, I am working on my memoirs and I would like to write a story about you.”
With a smile on his face and tears in his eyes, he said to me, “No one has ever wanted to write a story about me.”
“Well, I want to,” I said. “Maybe I’ll see you again and we can have a cup of coffee.”
He cheerfully answered, “I would like that.” Once again, we parted ways.
I really don’t know if I will ever see him again. But I realized this whole experience has humbled me and has taught me not to be afraid. Whatever this man may be, if it’s homeless, panhandler, or nomad, I know that I simply saw him as a human being and a very kind man.