The Homeless Master


About 20 years ago, I worked in Center City, Philadelphia for an insurance company, and I’d take the speed line from New Jersey to a stop a few blocks from my office. Along my walk in, there used to be a homeless guy just sitting on the sidewalk. I’d watch people go by him, paying him no attention save the inconvenience they had either walking over him or around him.

I would often buy a large fruit bowl from one of the roach coaches near the train station. I’d eat some for breakfast, and give him the rest. Every morning, he’d say thank you with a “much love, brother” when I’d hand him the box of fruit.

One day, he asked me why I gave him breakfast so often. “Because I feel bad you are homeless,” I replied. He laughed, a belly laugh, exposing his missing teeth as his eyes lit up with joy.

“I take the box because I feel sorry for you,” he said.

“You feel sorry for me?”

“Well, yeah. Look at unhappy you are, working every day to make someone else rich. You’re so afraid of being free that you’ve put yourself in a prison you call a home and a cell you call a job, working for the man. You won’t see any bars around me.”

“Yeah, but you need charity just to survive,” I replied, feeling defensive.

“True, but don’t we all? Your’s comes from the man who signs your paycheck, mine comes from people like you.”

“But I provide something to get my paycheck…”

“How do you feel when you give me breakfast?” he asked.

“I feel pretty good. Or at least I did.”

“Then I provide you something to get my breakfast. Tell me, which is the more important service?”

I smiled. “I gotcha.”

“Beggars like me provide everyone a service. For some, it’s a reminder of where they could end up. It brings up the fear they have in being completely free, of being unlike their parents, their friends, their family. For others, I give them a sense of love. For many of those people they don’t feel love until they give me something. I think I provide a wonderful service, and it costs me nothing.”

He was truly a wonderful gift, wrapped in tattered clothing, dirty skin, and a rancid smell that shrouded his beautiful heart. 20 years later and I still remember him, his freedom, and his perspective.

“A beggars bowl is never empty. It’s always filled with love.”