I remember the first time I saw a homeless person.  I was a little girl, no more than seven years old.  I was walking with my mom and dad through Albany’s Empire State Plaza.  A  man there was performing what appeared to be magic tricks, or possibly dance moves.  There was a bundle of clothes and belongings stashed behind him on a concrete ledge.  I thought he was funny at the time.

I had heard of homeless people, but I had never seen one.  Homeless people were, to me, strangers.   Others.  They were dangerous and dirty.  They were monsters, really.  Just as so many others who are different from ourselves become monsters in our minds eye when our true vision fails us.

I remember the moment of confusion I felt when my dad told me  that the funny man was homeless.  The information did not compute.  It couldn’t be possible.  The man I saw that day – he was not a monster.  He was not dirty, and he didn’t seem dangerous. The realization that he was so much like us literally brought tears to my eyes.  As I walked with my parents away from that man, I cried.  I cried for so many reasons that I could not understand then, and still don’t understand today.

I’ve been ignoring the evening news for the last two weeks.  I have enough going on in my own life.  As strong as I try to be, I am suffering.  I am grieving the loss of my health and cursing this disease that has riddled my body.  I’m spending a lot of my time trying not to be terrified.  The last thing I want is to hear about more suffering in distant corners of the world, where people are poor and look different from me.  Places where people don’t speak my language. It’s easier just to keep walking away.

Tonight, against my better judgment, I watched the benefit concert for the people of Haiti.  Between performances by self-important celebrities I saw footage showing the real faces of  real people who are grieving the loss of their country, their loved ones, their homes.  I saw the faces of people cursing the earth and the skies – men, women, and countless children trying hard not to be terrified.  I saw the faces of the orphans, and I imagined my son sitting among them.

I didn’t see any monsters.  And once again, I cried.