“Mommy, you know that man who lives under the cardboard box on the side of the road up here on the left? We saw him earlier today with Roddy on our way home, and Roddy was so sad that he didn’t have a bar, or water to give him. He gives food to the homeless people you know…. It’s so easy mommy, we just need to always have something with us to be able to give someone in need, and then just love them.” Gracie said this so sweetly and in a matter of fact way. I knew this about Roddy, and was so thankful that he was now teaching Liam and Grace to do the same.
I talked with Gracie and Liam that night after being with Roddy, about caring for all people, in all situations, and about the of the man living under the cardboard box. We all wondered how he got there, how long he’d been there, and if he’d ever find a home. I shared with them a story of when I was their age dealing with something a bit different, yet similar.
I was in 7th grade, living with my dad and brothers in our new home near the ocean. My parents were now divorced and my mom had left to live in the mainland. We moved from our mountain home to be near the ocean which soon became my get away, resting, and hiding place. My world had changed drastically, and I still had the need to run away from my problems. So I ran to the beach, and I ran often. My father was at the hospital busy working, sometimes 6 days a week, and my older brother was going to school on Oahu, so my little brother and I were usually home alone. Most every day, I would make my way down to the beach, by walking, skateboarding, running, or by begging the bus driver to drop me off at a spot where the beach was a five foot jump away, rather than dropping me off a 1/4 mile up the street, just so I could have as much time there as possible!
My friends and I would meet after school to surf, play volleyball, or just hang out. I often made random, temporary friends that came to the island for Spring break or Summer vacation. So, I was used to seeing new people all the time. One day I met a boy named Cameron, who quickly became one of my best friends. We spent our days at the beach, running around Coco Palms Hotel, jumping in pools, and in and out of the lobby and hallways. We goofed around opening coconuts for tourists, collecting their money and running off to buy ice cream. (none of that was really allowed, but we did it anyway!) I new he wasn’t a tourist because he was hapa haole, (half Hawaiian – half white), but I didn’t know where he lived or much about his life, other than he was becoming my best friend. One day, I went down to the beach early, at sunrise to go for a quick run, and saw something that I never expected. I was at the end of the beach where black lava rocks ran up the side of a cliff and formed a cove. I thought I saw someone behind what appeared to be a man made wall of of palm branches. I walked a little further, acting as if I were just going to walk along the reef, when I looked over and saw him. It was my friend Cameron, sitting there in the cove. It didn’t take long at all, for me to see his backpack, a blanket, and some trash, surrounding the area. I walked over to him as if none of that mattered, (though my mind was totally spinning), and just said hi. We looked at each other without saying a word. Then he took off and ran into the water with his board. He stayed out there forever, and I eventually had to go home, without saying goodbye.
The next day I woke up early, and packed up some leftover fish and sticky rice and walked on down to the cove. He was already out surfing, so I sat there and waited for him to come in. When he did, he ran up to me, smiled, and we just started talking as if nothing had changed. I handed him his food, and we spent a couple hours together walking the beach, and swimming. We never spoke about why, or how he ended up there. We just went on, as if everything was normal. I took mangos, papayas, and bananas from the yard, or left overs from dinner, day after day, and if he wasn’t there, I left it for him in the cove. One day while getting some sushi at the local store on the beach, I overheard a couple people working there, talking about him. They were saying that he was from Oahu, and homeless, because his father had died, and his mother left him. I was worried about the way they were talking, and thought they may call the police, or do something to get him off the beach. Part of me wanted to say something, but I just kept quiet and ran down to the beach to find my friend. I asked him why he never told me how he ended up alone, and begged him to let me tell someone. He told me about losing his dad, and not knowing where his mom was. We sat and talked and my heart broke for him. I promised though, as he asked, not to say anything to anyone. And so I didn’t.
Sadly, Summer was coming to an end, and I wanted Cameron to enroll in school. I knew he’d make friends and have a normal life, and possibly find help if he could just get in. I don’t know how it happened, without a home or parents, but he enrolled and was all set, ready for ninth grade. He didn’t have many clothes, or anything for that matter, and I wondered how it would all work out. I was so happy for him! I thought that this would be a way a caring person would finally find out about where, and how he was living, and help him. A few days before school started, we met at the beach, and he asked if I would cut his hair. Ha! Me? He wanted to look good for school, and for some crazy idea thought that I could do it. I had no idea of how to cut hair, but he asked, so I said yes. We walked a block up the street to my house, that was tucked back along the water. He had never been there, and I worried that my dad would come home to find me cutting his hair and feeding him in our house. My dad was very strict and told me who I could spend my time with, and who I should avoid. He always told me to stay away from the boys that surfed near the cove. He didn’t even know them, but somehow he thought they were trouble. Obviously, I didn’t listen. Cameron cleaned up in the outdoor shower, which I know must have been wonderful for him being salty and dirty much of the time. I gave him a towel, and some food, and began to cut his hair. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I could have cried while cutting his hair. I had so much love and compassion for him. Not love, like you’d think I’d have at that age for a boyfriend, but love for him because I could relate to his loneliness of losing his mom, his fear of being alone, and his anxiety for all the uncertainty. He was my best friend, and I hurt for him. I didn’t know how to help him. All I knew that I could do, was to give him what I had, and be his friend.
The next day came, as Summer was over, and we went off to our separate schools. I couldn’t get off the bus fast enough, (at my beach stop) to go find Cameron, and find out about his first day! When I got to the cove, the palm branch wall had fallen, and all his things were gone. I sat in the sand, confused and worried, and stayed there on the beach for hours waiting, hoping he’d show up. Finally, I realized he wouldn’t be coming, so I decided to go home.
Weeks went by without seeing my friend. I looked everywhere for him, but he was no where to be found. After a while, I heard from other friends, who went to his school, that he was there. They said he was showing up, on a bus from the North Shore, (on other side of the island), and that he was living with an older man. I figured something like that had happened, and I didn’t like the sounds of it. But, I was thankful he found a home, and wasn’t sleeping on the beach alone any more. So I left it at that, and hoped to see him again someday. You know, sadly, I never saw Cameron again. On that small island, you’d think I would have run into him somewhere. I didn’t. Not once.
I told Liam and Gracie that night, about my friend Cameron, and how he was homeless and though a young teenager, was just like the man living under the cardboard boxes. They were just the same. They were homeless and alone, and in need. The man under the cardboard box was really no different than my friend in the cove. They both needed someone to feed them, notice them, and love them. Yeah, it was way easier for me to help my friend on Kauai for many reasons. But the need was all the same. Gracie had it right. “It’s so easy mommy, we just need to always have something with us, to be able to give to someone in need, and then just love them.” Just love them.
Whenever I see a homeless person, I think of Cameron. I remember his smile and love for life! I remember how kind he was to me, and all the fun we had roaming around the island. I remember my radical love for him and how I’d do anything just to help him. I’d like to say I still have that radical kind of love for homeless people. But really, I don’t. I’d like it back though. When I was young I was a bit of a rebel, for many reasons. My rebellious way though, made me who I was to be, in the moment, for Cameron. I did so many things that I will never regret. Sometimes, we listen to the advice of people saying, “they aren’t safe… or don’t go near that person…. or avoid that area…. “, but I say, don’t always listen. I say, rebel a little. Go toward them, run to them, and look for them. Be smart of course! But know that you’ll never make a difference if you play it safe. The man under the cardboard box has a story just like my friend Cameron, and just like mine. Who knows, his mother may have left, just like my friend. They may have a lot in common. The only difference between and them, would be that one is living off the 120 loop in Georgia today, and one was on the beach of Kauai, 35 some years ago.
I hope I find within me, the radical love I had when I was younger, and I hope I rebel again, and give more love out abundantly and often!
I LOVE this Scripture from Mathew 25:35-40. Of course when searching in the in the Word, I find just what I need, every time. This is for me to always remember Cameron and the man under the cardboard box.
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’