Help arrives in unexpected ways
Yesterday during my morning walk in the Vondelpark I saw something that many of you that live in busy cities have probably seen before… a person lying on the ground asleep next to a shopping cart filled with clothes and various objects, most of them useful for living in the streets.
The difference was, this person didn’t seem asleep, but rather collapsed on the ground in the middle of the pathway where people walked passed them without even looking, from time to time the odd stare of fear and avoidance of this peculiar “creature” lying on their way.
As I walked passed, I felt a wring in my heart. It was a hot day already and I told myself that there was a human being lying on the pathway in the sun, clearly looking unwell. If it had been me, or any other in the same circumstances, they would have undoubtedly received immediate assistance.
I stood by them and I decided to do something, little knowing what was waiting for me.
I called the emergency services and after succeeding to convince them that a homeless person needed help, I waited next to him for someone to arrive. I had struggled to offer an accurate description during the call: perhaps two meters tall?, dark skinned and with a high forest of black, curly hair, looked like a male wearing a dress and make up, could be young (in his 20’s or actually could be older: 40’s?). Most important, they looked like they were struggling, breathing heavily, eyes rolled up and unaware of my attempts to wake them up.
I didn’t have to wait very long when a police car approached (help arrives in unexpected ways?). The young policeman was well mannered and efficient, and used his authoritative voice to bring him back. Sure enough, after a few moments he slowly came back to a semi-conscious state, and sat like a rag doll on the floor, big droopy eyes staring at us.
The policeman looked at me and made a joking sign with his hand like lifting a bottle, to mimic that they were drunk. In that moment I sadly realised that when someone is drunk and homeless, in the eyes of other humans they don’t need any help.
I gave the man my bottle of water which he drank with enthusiasm, and his wide smile made me relax. I asked the policeman if he could help me carry him under a tree while I was going to fetch some food from a nearby cafe. The policeman helped us and left raising his shoulders as if saying “up to you”, and off he went.
A humble lesson
When I came back with a ham croissant and a carrot cake cut into pieces, I found my new friend sitting on the bench we left him, but with another guy next to him. They seemed to know each other. I said ” You found a friend!” as I gave him the food that he proceeded to devour immediately with his massive hands. The other guy could have been straight out of Lord of The Rings … small, thin, bold head with a long pointy red beard and sharp green eyes, with long crafty fingers which demonstrated their mastery at rolling a joint.
“Why are you giving him food?”, he asked me. “Because he was hungry, and he didn’t look very good earlier” I replied
“You don’t need to give him food. You need to give him money. We are well taken care of here in Amsterdam, there are good shelters that give us food, showers, clothes, a bed. Pinocchio here – pointing at his giant friend who was still busy finishing his carrot cake – “he needs money to get a drink”. I felt a bit guilty: “I don’t have any cash with me right now”. “Then go away” he said with a smirk… he paused. “I’m only joking”, he smiled. Phew. I thought I had offended him.
“I am sorry” – I genuinely apologised – “I was worried about him”. He smiled. “You don’t need to worry about us, you know, us homeless people live a good life. We don’t need much and we get high whenever we want to…” He looked at me with beady eyes: “It is you, you need to worry about…”
“Where are you from?”, he asked me. “I am from Spain.” “From Spain? And what are you doing here? This place is only about money. You have to pay so much for everything, everyone is so stressed because it is all about the money you know?… You should leave.”
This was a wise guy. To my own amazement, I had recently made the decision to take my nomadic life to Spain, and I’d be moving exactly in one month, not far for the reasons he mentioned.
“Well actually, I am moving back to Spain next month”, I replied. “Ah! That’s great!” he said, as he reached out to offer me his high five. However, I saw myself hesitating to do a high five with him. I am a hugger, I believe in human touch and cuddles and yet, I found myself – afraid? – to bring my hand to this person’s hand. I was shocked at my reaction, and embarrassed.
Then, within mili-seconds that I still remember to happen in slow motion, “Pinocchio”, who had just finished his food, stood up 2 meters tall in front of me and took my small hand in his. His hand felt warm, soft and safe as he held mine for a long moment, saying something that sounded like a “thank you”.
As I looked up to him I couldn’t help feeling some soft tears coming up my eyes. This gentle giant and his wise friend had given me the lesson of a life time: I had just received a masterclass on Iife, money, love and human connection. I thought that I was the one helping, and turned up to be the other way round.
I high-fived both of them, promising to see them again in my walks. “See you in my next life” said the wise one, as “Pinocchio” smiled waving at me like a child.
We didn’t need to wait for the next life. I saw them again today in the park and we chatted and laughed as I brought food – I found out that wise guy is vegan, he is half German and Dutch, and that Pinocchio (no one knows his name) is from Brazil, the three of us with fascinating stories that we shared under the tree.
I will continue to see them until the day I leave next month, taking with me perhaps one of the most meaningful human connections I have experienced in my life. And I can’t wait for the next life to meet them again.
Learn more about homeless care in the city of Amsterdam: