Could homelessness give one the feeling of total freedom? Freedom from the clutter of material goods, social constraints and dogmas?
I never thought of homelessness from that perspective, until I met Anthony. He was seated at the entrance if a beautiful Florida beach making shell bracelets and offering them for free. Of course donations were not rejected, but the simple fact that he was working at earning money in an honest way, made me stop.
He was a young, good looking man, who did not look homeless. What do I mean by it? He was clean, shaven and well spoken, as compared to two other guys who were hanging around the area, and whose breathe smelled of alcohol at 10 am.
I stopped and leaned over the towel on which the shell bracelets were displayed. Anthony allowed me to choose my own design and made me a customized bracelet.
He told me about his life, how he decided to leave it all, and experience the homeless life, with its downs, but also its total freedom from constrains and responsibilities. He told me it was a phase, but at the moment he wouldn’t give this new found freedom for anything in the world. The freedom of sleeping on a beach and stare at the starry sky, while listening to the humming of the Ocean’s waves.
For the rest of my stay in Florida, I made it a habit to bring Anthony a snack on my way to the beach and water. When I noticed his eyes were red and infected because the wind was blowing sand into his eyes, I brought him an eye wash, and he felt better. I tried how would I feel if he were my son… but my imagination failed me.
I learned that to make the bracelets he spend hours on the beach, searching for shells with a hole, so he could string them. I took it on me to help and in the process of seeking for broken, shells with a hole, I learned that sometimes the broken is more valuable than the perfect. It was the reverse of what I have always done: pick only the “perfect shells,” while discarding the broken…
When the time came to say good bye, I couldn’t. I am selfish enough to want to keep the image of Anthony’s smile and his shell bracelets intact, in my mind’s eyes, rather than being spoiled by good bye tears.
Thank you Anthony for helping me discover a different perspective on homelessness and the value of things.