Today was a blah day. This whole week I’ve been low on energy. Tonight on my way home, a young homeless man called out to me as I walked past with a classmate, “Can you buy me something to eat?” This is a common question in New York City. I do what I can when I can, and basically keep it moving. I asked him if he knew what he wanted. He said yes. We went into the restaurant. My classmate followed. There was a line; he and I got in it. My classmate had a large bag so she stood off to the side.
I started asking him questions. Are you a student? How long have you been homeless? Where do you normally stay? How long have you lived in New York? How are you doing overall? He answered some of the questions and deflected others, but he was very adamant in telling me what bothered him about the world. “How am I doing,” he repeated. “How should I be doing when so many people hate me? People hate me because I’m gay. They hate me because I sing and they don’t want me too. They don’t want me to be anything and they tell me that. But I’m not going to hate them back. And I’m going to keep singing.”
I looked him in the eye and said, “Can I share something with you that I’ve learned over the last twenty years?”
He looked taken aback. “I shared that with you because I thought you wanted me to be real,” he said cautiously.
“I do. Thank you for sharing. I just want to save you some time and energy. From the last twenty years of my life, I can tell you: people don’t hate you because you’re gay. People hate you because people are hateful. It’s just people being people. Don’t over-complicate it. I can’t tell you how often I asked myself , ‘Why me? Why are people treating me like this or that? What if I was different? What if I did what they wanted me to do? What if I was a better person?’ But you know what? None of that mattered. People hated me because they wanted to. Hate is what people do. I had to learn to appreciate who I am. You need accept who you are. When you accept all the various aspects of yourself, other peoples’ thoughts about you will no longer matter. Learn to appreciate yourself. Learn to love yourself.”
He looked a bit dreamy-eyed and touched his head to my shoulder for a second – I admit I wasn’t expecting that. Then he looked me in the eye and asked if he could sing me a song.
“I’m not one to silence anyone’s voice,” I replied, “please do.” We were still in the middle of a slow-moving line in a restaurant in Union Square. He began singing a beautiful song in his beautiful voice. Halfway through I began lip-syncing along with him. My heart was lifted and I believe he lifted the hearts of several people in the line also.
He sang I Still Believe by Brenda K. Starr; the song was later covered by Mariah Carey.
When he finished, I had more questions for him, as did my classmate and soon we were at the register. He ordered his meal and I asked him his name.
Brandon. His name is Brandon.
A short while later, after leaving the restaurant and parting with my classmate, I searched online for the song he sang to me. If there’s one spark of hope left in my grasp, I’ll hold it with both hands. It’s worth the risk of burning to have a second chance…If we believe that true love never has to end, then we must know that we will love again.
What Brandon gave me
I was in need of a song. I desperately needed a word. Brandon started his serenade off with “You looked into my eyes….”
Shortly before me and my classmate came into contact with Brandon, my classmate saw someone on campus from another of her classes. She walked up to this woman and said, “Do you see me?” Before we parted company with that woman, my classmate told her, “When you see me, say ‘hi’ and I will do the same.” The woman was taken aback by both statements, however the first statement she didn’t take literally at first and she asked, “How do you mean, ‘Do I see you’?” However by the end of their conversation she understood it literally and returned to the first question to answer succinctly, “This is the first time I am seeing you and I did speak.”
Brandon gave me clarity.
I see people for who they are. I hear the things they don’t say. I feel their pain, confusion and their sense of loss. That’s what they willingly reveal to me… until they realize that in understanding their pain, I’m also able to follow them when they withdraw and hide within themselves. I invade their hiding places. I confront them in their fears. All this happens simply through the sharing of conversation.
Every friend I’ve gained through conversation, I have also loss through conversation. People are happy to tell you what they think you want to hear, but they can’t stand to share the truth of themselves. I have no problem with sharing my truth, but I’ve come to learn that my openness is the beginning of the end of my friend and family relationships. People reject openness, honesty, truth and love. After so many endings, I had started to despair that I could ever love people through, and beyond, their rejection of me.
And then during a random encounter with a young man named Brandon, I was briefly pulled out of hiding and heard that I will love again.