Reading between the lines of a message written on cardboard


“What do you think it’s like?” I asked her as we walked along our usual route, weights in both hands as we pumped our arms back and forth in sync with our jogging shoes. “I mean, how do you think it feels to know you have reached a point where you need to ask for help on a piece of cardboard?”

It was a question that had been heavy in my head all day. We have all been exposed to it, maybe even experienced it; a man or woman on the side of the street with a cardboard sign in front of them.  Sharpie bleeds through the flimsy cardboard, piercing it with a plea for help.

After seeing a man on the side of the street earlier that day with a sign that read “Homeless Veteran. Spare change. God Bless,” and giving him five dollars, I had been fixated on what it must feel like to have to ask for help in this manner. To Stand Alone. On The Side Of Traffic. And Beg For Spare Change. To Pray That This Change Will Change Your Circumstances.

Yes, there are times when I roll down my window and give an individual money. I am no martyr for this. But I am often met with criticism: “They are going to use it for drug money.” “They should go to a shelter or get a job to get their life on track.” But all the criticism in the world cant change the fact that moves me to reach out my hand and forge a connection through a piece of paper that I wish meant nothing: Tomorrow I could be writing for help on a piece of cardboard. Tomorrow I could need someone to read my sign and extend a shred of humanity to me. Today, tomorrow or the next day I could be in the same position. You could be too.

I don’t know what it is like to be homeless. I am not trying to act like an enlightened figure or speak of things I do not know here. I am simply questioning what we all might say if we were forced to write upon a piece of cardboard. How could we sum up our story into less than 10 words? Is that a trick question? Well, yes. I have a hard time believing any story can be a mere ten words. But then why do we never ask to hear the rest of the story? Why do we ignore people who are homeless? Why do we look straight ahead when they are to the side of us? Why do we stare at the red light, praying it will turn green a little faster, so that we can drive away quickly and forget?

Why do we leave people, who are just as human as us, standing there with only ten words?

Well perhaps that is why I am here: blogging and writing all the time. Because we all have a beginning, a middle and an end. We all have a voice, though some have the privilege to be more resonant than others. We all have something to say, a proclamation that should not be boiled down to broken sentences, strangled to fit on the back of a pizza box.

For this reason, among many more, is the reason that I will be dedicating my first year after college to service. I have been accepted to two programs (Yay!) and will be learning of my placement in the next few weeks (keep you posted). I intend to continue blogging throughout the journey and I guess it is about time that I stated this as my purpose. Finally I can define my blog: This blog is not about me, nor for me. This blog is about each and every one of you and the common thread sewn between us that makes us all human at the end of the day. This blog is not only about what makes us unique, special and different, but more importantly, what calls us all to be the same. And if I show that to one person then that is enough.

I am a lover of good literature, profound ideas and pages of goodness that leave me questioning the world around me. And if you are too then I highly recommend adding this book to your reading list. Same Kind Of Different As Me, by Denver Moore and Ron Hall, exposes the contrast between homelessness and privilege and caused me to really question: Am I really all that different from a man holding up a cardboard sign? This story is incredible and true. I envy any person who gets to trace the words of this remarkable book while I am forced to return back to my textbooks and reading for classes.

16 thoughts on “Reading between the lines of a message written on cardboard

  1. I agree with you 100%: when it comes to whether or not to give to a homeless person on the side of the street, I error on the side of compassion. Perhaps my willingness to give, to acknowledge the humanity of that man or woman, will mean more than the money itself. I’d rather give the benefit of the doubt than nothing at all.

  2. Hannah! This post reminds me so much of the term paper I am in the process of writing for my Advanced Composition class! Haha. We actually just spent the past hour and a half discussing the problems with our papers and whatnot. Basically, we have to discuss how we would teach writing to our students, and how we have been impacted by writing. Your post pretty much summed up everything I’ve been wanting to, and hopefully, incorporate in my paper! Writing is the best way to express our individual voices, yet it seems to be one of the most difficult and most criticized tasks that we come in contact with.

    1. That is so good Jill! Jeepers, send me a copy of that paper. I think too many people are afraid of their own voices, but it is what makes us stronger when we finally find it.

      Best,

      Hannah Katy

  3. Ahh, Hannah. You always make me think. It never fails! 🙂 I have always flip flopped on this one, been on both sides of this story (well, except for the homeless one.) I’ve been the person extending my hand out the window to give a few spare dollars, and I’ve also been the girl who stares straight ahead, hoping they’ll disappear, consoling myself with the thought that they don’t need anymore drug money. Usually, I’m ashamed of that thought. I like to think that it doesn’t matter…WHAT…they do with the money. All that matters is my heart–that I take the chance, I give out of my excess so that they might have the chance to turn themselves around if they really want it. I think it would be awful to be homeless, and I wouldn’t want people to just turn a blind eye if it were me. Thank you for reminding me that there are more important things to think about, besides myself! It’s very humbling.

  4. I am definitely going to pick up that book. And I LOVE that photo – keep your coins, I want CHANGE. We did a research project at work called “Stages of Change” and saw how people became more successful when programming was targeted to their level of readiness for change, instead of lumping everyone in the same class. It was really interesting. I work in an area where there are a lot of people with cardboard asking for change on the streets, and instead of money, I usually give them a flyer to come to us – we offer food, clothing and skill building classes, from life skills to computer skills in order to prepare them for finding employment. I’d rather give them something that could potentially change their circumstances than money which could go to anything. It’s the old “give the man a fire and he’ll be warm for a night, teach the man how to make fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life” kind of idea. Another great post my dear 🙂

    1. It’s the old “give the man a fire and he’ll be warm for a night, teach the man how to make fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life” kind of idea.

      Love that.. that is in the inner workings of changing the world.
      Thanks for sharing love.

      Best,

      Hannah Katy

  5. you have a great voice and I love this post! I think it’s great that you gave him some money. There are always times I wish I could give more but one thing I think is important is to give a smile. I read somewhere how most people just ignore homeless people and pretend they’re not there. I think that’s so sad because they’re people too. You’re a great and loving person Hannah! xox

  6. I always get a mini-crisis when I see a beggar on the street. On one hand, my heart bleeds for them, and on the other everyone says they’ll use it for drink/drugs/what have you. In the end it will boil down to if I have change and what mood I’m in that day if I’m honest. But the change point of view? Something I less often consider. I think because there’s that temptation to get wrapped up in our lives and think of it as time/money taken out of your day rather than the impact it would have on the homeless person. I think it’s great that you have put yourself out there in such a selfless manner. Just by putting your words, your opinions and your beliefs on a soapbox like this for people to read, it makes a difference. Thanks, HK.

  7. I love this post. So often we write off those people on the street, saying that they must deserve it or “did it to themselves”. I think a lot of people are afraid of them, because deep down don’t most of us know that a few unfortunate events or wrong decisions could put us in the same position?

    Thanks for visiting my blog today! 🙂

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