Every once in awhile I write short, true accounts of encounters with random homeless folks in downtown Portland. The following is one such account.
No Hand Out
I first noticed him as I was heading into a convenience store. He was sitting on the sidewalk in a gray hoodie with one leg splayed out. He had a small ragged sign that simply said – Please help. I knew he would most likely hit me up for money when I passed by and he did. Only it wasn’t so much an ask, it was a look – lifeless eyes slowly lifting up to mine.
I took a dollar from my pocket and reached down to give it to him. He raised both arms and I caught my breath when I saw he had no hands or wrists. Each arm ended at the elbow. He used them to grab the buck, like a gray crab with pincers. I lowered my eyes and walked away.
When I got to my office I could see him from my window. He had his head down with his arms hidden inside his sweatshirt. At lunch, I walked to the post office and saw he was still there. I passed by him and caught my breath again. His one leg reached out like before; his other leg was missing. He had a prosthetic that extended just below the knee. It looked in bad shape, like it had been worn down over time.
I felt I had to know what happened. Was it a bomb in Iraq or Afghanistan? Did he step on a mine in Vietnam? Was he in a terrible car accident? What cosmic catastrophe caused him to be so physically impaired and also homeless? His answer was quiet and succinct: “I was born this way.” God didn’t even give him a decent story to tell.
I went back to my office and made him a new sign. It said: NO HANDS, NO WRISTS, ONE GOOD LEG. BUT I HAVE HOPE. PLEASE HELP. When I gave it to him he read it slowly, then said thanks, he would use it. He was probably humoring me. Now I realize he could have used two ten-dollar bills more than one new sign. I haven’t seen him since.