Several months ago, my roommate lost his wallet. His small bundle of leather, with cards, cash and miscellaneous tools of identification, had fallen out somewhere not far from the “Q” (a now mythical reference we use for our little home).
This being Shaw, I would not have held my breath awaiting its return any time soon. In fact, I would have started cancelling credit cards. However, pleasantly surprising as it must have been for him, my roommate had his wallet returned to him by a kindly fellow from the neighborhood, its contents perfectly intact. The man’s name, it turned out, was Stanley, and he was homeless.
Now, it goes without saying, but to have anybody return your lost wallet in Washington D.C. seems a particularly rare occurrence; even in Georgetown or Dupont I wouldn’t fancy my chances. But to have a homeless man in Shaw, someone for whom the amount of cash must have seemed exponentially more tempting, is truly a one in a million. It was a beautiful, honest action, and certainly one of the most principled acts I’ve come across here.
My roommate graciously thanked Stanley, and gave him a reasonable amount of cash as well as some blankets and old clothes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, however that wasn’t the last we’d see of Stanley. He would come by the house periodically following the incident, looking for a couple of dollars from one of us.
My roommate willingly doled out more cash a few more times, before beginning to fear that he was fostering a dependency hand-out relationship of sorts, and thus made the conscious decision to stop. It was at this point that I intervened to help Stan out.
Stanley is a fairly short man of gentle disposition, much more consciously grounded in reality than the red-eyed and lost I see nearby, wandering the streets under the Sisyphean weight of stones of the crack rock variety. Of all of the homeless and vagrant I’ve spoken with, in DC and elsewhere, Stan came off as one of the most sincere and straight-forward.
We spoke briefly, and he explained that he’d been living in Shaw for the past 22 years.
“22 years?!,” I’d thought. “He’s been living here as long as I’ve been alive!,” a fact which is difficult to fathom until I took the time to consider the length of my entire life.Through some vagaries, I came to understand that Stanley had run into a bad patch of luck a few years back, and was now on the street.
And yet there I was, taking out a five dollar bill from my wallet as if I was the established member of society, and he merely some sort of passing vagabond. All things considered, American society being the sort of enlightened Western institute of freedom (of speech, if not from hunger) and suffrage (except, of course, if you live in D.C., the political capital of the nation) that it is, perhaps I am the more “established” one.
On another early evening, he came by with an old television and VCR set, and after some cajolement, Stanley convinced me into purchasing both off of him, for about $15. Though in hindsight I might have been gullible to his explanation that the church had given him the items, I bought them off him as a final “good karma-ish” deed. And, as Stanley had quite pragmatically pointed out, I would have more use for the items than he would in the near future.
After setting up the rudimentary system atop my room fridge, I found a video cassette inside the VCR. It was “The Land Before Time.”
After this purchase, however, I too had reached the “threshold of good will” of my roommate, the favor that Stanley’s initial good deed had initially indebted the house as a matter of human decency. But of course, Stanley’s own needs have not diminished similarly. Basic needs being unmet, he continued to knock at our door for several months following, sometimes as late as 1am. After calling out my roommate’s name several times, he would leave.
My room is right next to the front door, and so his voice echoed most directly into it. He never pleaded, just waited out in the cold for a moment before heading off. To where, I do not know. He hasn’t come by for several months now, and I doubt that he’ll return, the implicit knowledge that we no longer provide having been sufficiently communicated by the silence of our closed door.
But, in this most fierce of Winter cold snaps, I do wonder occasionally what has become of Stanley, the virtuous Shaw veteran who acted with a moral fortitude that many a CEO could learn from.