("Happy" -- Photo Credit: Stacie Huckeba)
This is "Happy." I met him Christmas morning. My friend Rod Picott and I spent our Christmas driving around delivering packages of propane, food, socks, shirts, and various necessities, along with a handful of survival items like blankets, sleeping bags and cook stoves, etc. to some of the local homeless camps here in Nashville.
Not the shelters mind you, the camps. You know, the guys living under tarps in the woods out by the interstate? The ones we dart our gaze from, the ones we avoid eye contact with -- those guys. Our social commentary seems to say that we can't take in anyone else until we take care of our own. So I decided to give up my holiday to find out who they were and what "we" could do to actually help them.
There is a huge long back-story that should accompany this blog. Christmas day is truly only a tiny piece of the story. I spent two weeks seeking them out and finding out how to go about getting them the items they need. And there were dozens of people who helped make it happen. But telling that story will take me way over my word limit and none of us has that kind of time anymore. Besides, it gives me opportunity to write that one later on down the line and trust me; it's a good one.
For now, let's get back to Happy shall we? He was thrilled and overwhelmed with his Christmas morning delivery. He was literally a man moved to tears. When we arrived at his camp, there were four men "home" that day. All but one of them were huddled together. One of them had found some soup and had warmed it up and shared it with the other men.
As I said, I wanted to know about them and asked if any of them would mind taking a moment to chat with us about who they were and what they needed. Most of them graciously invited us in to their worlds. One of the men even swept up the entryway to his tarp and tent for us. Even living in a tent in the woods some people have their standards. And this man did. One of the men didn't really want much to do with us, which I understood and the other was in his tent sleeping and I didn't bother him with any of it.
After spending a few minutes at the first site, Happy invited us down the trail to his tent for a visit and we obliged.
Happy lives up to his name in many ways. He makes jokes. Really funny jokes actually. He has a whole Jeff Foxworthy-ish homeless bit that's quite hilarious if you can get past the fact that he's telling them to you while you sit on his filthy, broken chair, under a ratty, leaking tarp, with various items in some form of decay surrounding you. It was raining here that morning and I felt bad watching it destroy his perfect fire and it certainly gave everything a more pungent aroma.
Like I said, he was really funny, but it's a bit hard to laugh when you comprehend that this is his living room. After offering us a seat, he carries on, "If you've ever gotten laid in a dumpster... You might be homeless!" He howls with laughter and Rod and I do too.
But underneath all those jokes and that laughter, it's apparent that Happy is a man in severe pain. A broken man that literally cries over the gift of a 16-ounce can of propane and then finds the strength to pull himself together enough to smile and crack another joke.
And he's also a man of character. Happy is a man whose response to the question, "How can people help you?" was this, "Don't hurt a woman, don't hurt nobody I love, don't steal." If you notice, he asked for nothing for himself, he just asks for all of us to be a nice to each other. I suppose that's partly why he's "Happy." He doesn't want much, just kindness; and an ear to listen to him and a laugh at the punch line to his jokes. You can see that the laughter makes it easier for him.
As we started to leave, I asked if I could take his picture and he obliged. I took the photo and we started to leave, but he called me back and before I could even ask, he started reading the barely visible, faded poem that he had written on that piece of cardboard. It was to a woman who used to come by and help him from time to time. Someone who had obviously lost interest or moved on or in all probability just lost track of where he went.
His voice was shaking and cracking the entire time as he read aloud.
You add so much light
to my inner soul
Tis such my delight
capturing a glimpse of yo' roll
Your movements astound me
when you're standing still
Send me to the rattle tree
and let me do your will
Don't tell me you forgot
where's that ol rattle tree
It's rooted in the same place
Where you first barked at me
Rattle tree rattle tree
rooted inside me
Can't be cut down
ever live my Rattle tree
At the end, Happy cried, I bawled and Rod was as silent and as still as I've ever seen him. I could tell what was under the surface and if he dared as much as flinch he would have given in to the emotion.
We turned to leave but Happy grabbed us back once more and forced us into what was both the most beautiful and awkward group hug of my life. And then he began to pray. Once again, not for himself, Happy prayed for Rod and I. And we stood there in the woods, in the rain, on Christmas morning, hugging while Happy prayed. And then we said goodbye.
It took a few minutes to really breathe or talk when we got in the car.
The hug left a large smear print on Rod's jacket that took him a while to throw in the wash. He said, "I mean he's a person, he's filthy and he smells. Of course it left a mark, he's a person." And the day left more than just a smelly dirt smear on him as evident by his own Facebook post later that night which went viral to the tune of (at last check) 2,500 likes, 340 comments and 587 shares.
"They" are as individual as you and I. They aren't who we think they are and they don't need what we think they need. The most ironic part is that for as big a deal as people make it. As loud as we yell about "taking care of our own!" it's as simple as asking them. Just pull over and ask, "Is there anything you need?" They'll tell you and they honestly are rarely greedy about it. Most of the time just asking is enough...
("Beautiful," by Happy)
Epiblog: A place for paying it forward and supporting artists, entrepreneurs and people who inspire me. I hope you find some inspiration here too.
This one offers you a challenge. Laurie Green of SAFPAW (Southern Alliance for People & Animal Welfare) is a fearless one-woman show who drives around in a car with 300,000 miles on it, hiking into the woods to deliver supplies and services to the people we ignore.
She get's them IDs, military benefits, medical care, job interviews, their section 8, gets them into treatment, takes them to the library, gets vet care if she finds pets, pays funeral expenses for the approximately 30 corpses per year she finds, helps women & children get out of there, and a laundry list of other things -- I've never in my life witnessed someone take on every single day what she takes on. She needs help and she needs donations and she needs a new vehicle... desperately!
Your challenge is to help her. You want to help our own? You want to help our veterans? Then please help her. http://www.safpaw.org