Okay, so I have a birthday party to get to, study to do and sleep to catch up on so I will try to keep this quick.
Last week, I was out for a quick walk to get lunch. Feeling sorry for myself with a bit of the flu and just wanting to get back to my bed for more sleep, when I passed a homeless person asking for money. In Rome that is nothing different. There are street stalls on every corner, people walking around selling socks and other useless things down almost every street, and beggars or general homeless people almost everywhere you look.
To be honest, as bad as it may sound, after a couple of weeks you don’t seem to notice so much. Sure you see the people, and sometimes you pity them, but I at least found myself donating my spare change less often. Sad stories that convinced you the first time fall on deaf ears because it is the same every time. People with tattered clothing with distressed expressions stop having such an impact. There are too many of these people to help, too many even to give change to each time, so you just learn to ignore them and the guilt in some way. Or try at least.
However, this one young man that I walked past on this day was different.
I remember seeing him for the first few weeks after I arrived; always in the same place. I was drawn to him and wanted to help him, mostly because he was the only one not asking for money. He had amazing blue eyes and always seemed cheery with a smile on his face, despite his situation. Then I stopped seeing him.
By this time it was starting to get cold, and I wondered what had happened to him. Was he still in the same place every morning, and it was just my change in routine that meant I wasn’t seeing him? Was he comfortable at night? I know I was still cold some nights, inside my house with all my blankets and jackets, so how could he be getting by?
Then, just when I stopped thinking about him, there he was again. Still the same blue eyes, still the smile on his face, but different. Now he has a beard. Although I am not sure if this is because of the cold, or lack of shaving facilities, or both, it worries me. And now, he had a little cup for passers-by to put spare change in. That was different.
So as I went to walk past as I do most of the time now, I thought to myself that if this proud and cheerful guy was asking for money now, maybe things have even worse for him. Once this thought crossed my mind I had to stop, take a few steps back to him, and give him what little change I had at the time.
But this wasn’t enough to elevate my concern. After giving him what I could and seeing his face light up in gratitude, I went to get food. But this made me feel guilty. I decided on my way home I would stop again and give him the new bit of change I had after lunch. I also decided that when I leave Italy, I want to donate my blankets, and whatever else I have that could be of use, to him.
But by the time I got back to the same spot, he was gone.
Now it has been a week or so since I have seen him again. I am still not sure if he is cold at night, although I have also wondered if giving him blankets would be useful at all. What would he do with them during the day, with no house to store them in?
This little experience has started to make me think about the homeless, and how even useful and helpful everyday items are just not practical. I wonder how they get by.
And I wonder what has happened to the lovely young guy with the beautiful eyes again. I hope that the next time I see him he still has a smile on his face to show that his situation has not defeated him. And that I can understand enough Italian to be able to find out exactly what I could do to help him.
But is it wrong that, as much as I wish I could help everyone, I know that I can’t and I am slightly ok with that?
It it wrong that, instead, I have a ‘favourite’ homeless person, like he is some sort of children’s play toy?
Is it wrong that, instead of still fighting, trying to do something for everyone and make a little difference for all, I am content so long as I can help this one person, even if he does not need it as much as others?
I want to make the life of one person as good as I can, instead of helping everyone just a little bit. That isn’t a very utilitarian aim of mine…
Is it wrong to play favourites?