I was just leaving the parking lot of GRACE Marketplace (a homeless shelter near the airport), and I certainly didn't expect to see anyone I knew as a guest there. After I got my truck started, I heard, "Hey Rusty! Please roll down your window." I looked out to see a roughly-dressed man, in his mid-40s, with a dirty ball cap and a gnarly beard looking in my window at me.
As I rolled down my window, he seemed excited to see an old friend, and asked how I had been.
It took a moment, but shortly I recognized Jeff. Jeff had been my manager almost 2 decades ago when I was fresh out of college in one of my first jobs. He had recognized me walking out to my vehicle and was excited to see an old friend. Of course, more questions than I could ask raced through my mind.
Before I could ask anything, he caught me up on his story and I was literally shaken. I learned that he had lost his wife in a tragic car accident 10 years ago. They had just started dating when we worked together, and were together over 10 years when she was taken away in an instant.
That was awful enough; but it was the first domino in his life that led to a battle with depression, losing his career, substance abuse, losing custody of his 2 children, and eventually where he was that day - homeless.
My entitlement strikes me at times, but this was more like a gut-punch. It's one thing to know there are homeless people. It's quite another to know a personal friend who is homeless.
For me, a typically 'stressful' holiday season is ensuring that my son's gift is delivered by Santa (UPS) in time, and that the elves (my wife and I) get it assembled correctly. For Jeff, it's wondering if he'll have a place to sleep on Christmas and whether he will be able to get warm.
This holiday season will be different, and not just because we will do something for Jeff. It will be different because I've been slapped in the face with a reminder of how comfortable and easy my life is. Make no mistake, 2021 has had some challenges - but nothing like Jeff.
*Names were changed in this story for privacy protection.