December 24, 2013,
I’d like you meet someone I’ve known for years, but have actually never met until today. He spends most days sitting on a street corner not far from my home asking for food, water or ‘anything’ to help. I have driven past him virtually everyday for the past four years, and I kindly return his friendly smile or wave, or offer him some spare change if it is available. His presence has become so commonplace to me, that if he isn’t on the street corner I get a bit worried, and I wonder what has happened to him. Despite this, I have never once bothered to take a moment out of my day to sit with him and ask him his story. Well today I decided to change all that. Instead of simply driving by, I pulled into a nearby drug store and purchased a Santa’s hat as a gift for him. I then walked over to meet him and find out more about this man I see nearly everyday but know nothing about.
Phillip actually doesn’t live around here. He and his roommate live in a trailer about 10 miles away, where rent is more affordable. He commutes here in his ‘old beat up jalopy’ (his words) that his sister left to him when she passed away a few years ago. I guess the street corners around here are more charitable than his neighborhood, not to mention safer.
Some days are better than others, but between he and his roommate they manage to make ends meet. When I asked about his roommate, he told me that she spends a lot of her days on the streets too. She isn’t able to contribute as much to their pool of money anymore since she suffers from diabetes and was diagnosed a few years ago with cancer. She does what she can, but the doctors have told her that her days are numbered. I guess the days when I don’t see Phillip on the street corner it is because he is taking her to the doctor, or simply spending time at home with her when she having a bad day. They’ve been together for 22 years – the same amount of time my husband and I have been married. But, Phillip doesn’t think she’ll live another year.
I sat and talked with Phillip for a little while longer and he told me about growing up, the places he’d visited while his dad was with the Navy, and how he ended up here in Colorado. There is so much more I could have learned from him, but I could tell he was anxious to get back to ‘work’. So, at the end of our conversation I told him that I was a photographer and about my Project 365. He offered to be my ‘subject’ for the day, and I handed him the Santa hat that I had purchased at the drug store. He excitedly placed the hat on his head and proudly posed for his holiday portrait.
But, Phillip’s story doesn’t end there…
Late this January, I was once again driving by Phillip’s corner when the light turned red. I stopped, rolled down my window to say hello and to offer him some spare change. Phillip thanked me for the help and then mentioned that someone had come by to interview him and take his photograph. Thinking he was referring to our meeting back in December, I replied ‘Yes, yes. That was me. Good to see you again!’ But Phillip pressed on. He was anxiously telling me how he was going to be featured in the local paper – his picture, his story, everything! Yep, he was going to be somewhat of a celebrity! …Well, I must admit, I felt kind of bad for Phillip. I was convinced he’d mistaken my own encounter with him as being somehow related to a local news story. I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise, so I smiled politely and let him go on. I was somewhat relieved when the light turned green and I was able to leave the awkward conversation behind me.
Well, as it turns out Phillip wasn’t mistaken at all. He really was interviewed by someone from the local press. When I received my March edition of the local paper, I found Phillip featured just ‘below the fold’ on the front page! It turns out, the paper was doing an article on realtor Joe Manzanares who had recently hired Phillip to hold a RE/MAX sign promoting his realty business. For a few hours each day, Phillip now stands on his regular corner holding the RE/MAX sign instead of his regular panhandling sign. In return, Manzanares pays Phillip $100 per week for helping promote his business. Apparently, this realtor has helped out other panhandlers in a similar fashion, and his story of kindness has gone viral on the internet. The newspaper went on to report that AOL Studios in Hollywood is even planning to film a documentary on Manzanares’ professional panhandlers. So, I guess Phillip might turn into a bit of a celebrity after all. What are the odds?
As if this weren’t wonderful enough, I have come to find out that my encounter with Phillip has had a bit of a ripple effect on others. Back in January, my husband passed along my original blog post about Phillip to his coworkers. One of his associates was so touched by my encounter with Phillip that she became inspired to help a homeless person in her own neighborhood by arranging for some much needed medical care. Hers isn’t the only story I’ve heard: numerous friends and colleagues have expressed that Phillip’s story has made them view homeless people a little differently, with a little more compassion and a little more kindness.
So, I guess it’s true what they say: KINDNESS IS CONTAGIOUS. Spread it around, and be the reason someone smiles today.