The Homeless Encounter in Seattle

“Let’s run, Mommy!”

We are in the heart of Seattle on a long overdue family vacation. It’s our final day of touring the City, and we’re beginning the mile walk from the water to the science center. After two days of hearing our four year old complain of tired legs, I was ecstatic that she wanted to run and skip up the ascending streets ahead (a much better option than the piggy-back rides we’d been doing).

She and I ran from the rest of the family, looking back here and there until they were so far back that we couldn’t see them anymore. We stopped at a corner to check navigation and take a breath, and two men asked us if we needed directions. “Head North to Fourth,” they said and we skipped across the road following their lead.

Soon, I noticed that we were passing people with developmental disabilities and recognized the familiar odor of homelessness.

We stopped to admire the painted piano on the sidewalk, daring each other to play a song. As we were moving to sit down, one of the men asked if he could play for us. He started playing and singing a Billy Joel melody. I watched my child sway to the music and smile.

I looked around me. At one time, this scenario- this street in an unfamiliar city with my precious child to protect- would have scared me. I would have run or at least walked briskly out of fear. Instead, words echoed in my head as tears came to my eyes, “they have talent; they are amazing people.”

As a social worker for 17 years, I learned the most valuable lesson from helping homeless people, hearing their stories, and getting to know and understand them. I learned that all people, ALL people, have something amazing to offer the world around us.

I remembered the man during the recession who lost his Fortune 500 accountant job and was found badly beaten in a park by his house and brought to shelter who later, with my help, went back to work. I remembered the battered women I helped find shelter with adorable young kids and the mentally and developmentally challenged people I helped begin a new life that, in some cases, was very similar to the Seattle residents I saw on that street. I remembered the talent that I found within them.

And on this day, on this street about half a block from the mental health center, I appreciated the gift this man was pouring into my daughter who later exclaimed, “He was beautiful! That was the most beautiful song I have ever heard!”

He let me take a picture and we thanked him profusely (high five and fist bump) before we ran off to be reunited with the rest of the family. (We literally ran off with him shouting, “Why are you running?” To which I answered, “She wants To!”)

This is a photo and memory that will guide us and remind us that all people have gifts to offer the world around us. It was a great lesson for my daughter and a much-needed reminder for me and hopefully you, too.

Homeless man playing piano

Leave a Reply