I had placed my suitcase and knapsack on the seat next to me and hadn’t thought much of it until I was asked to move them and offer up the seat. By this point the train car was so full, there was no way I could move. I politely declined not knowing where I could move the bags to and still have them in my sight. A man and his family were standing next to my seat. The man asked me if I could move the bags so that his small daughter could sit down. I explained that I didn’t know where I could move them to. He pointed up at the front of the car. When I declined he became irritated and started berating me in front of all those around me, saying that I was a horrible person for not giving up my seat to a child. This continued until we approached San Francisco. He even took out his cell phone and captured a photo of me, saying that he would post it online so that the world would know what a horrible person I was.
Somehow I kept my composure as my eyes began to well up. Little did this man know that the only reason I was staying in Sunnyvale was because I couldn’t find a place to lay my head in San Francisco, since all the hostels were booked up for the America’s Cup Louis Vuitton races, and none of my friends had space for me.
You see, I was homeless.
I had been for nearly five months. The only reason I could stay at a hotel in Sunnyvale was because I had racked up enough points over the years for a free night. Little did this man know that before I boarded the Caltrain in Sunnyvale, that I had already been berated by a taxi driver who yelled at me for not giving him a larger tip. He screamed that I was a spoiled American living in a lap of luxury while he was struggling to earn a good wage as a cab driver. Little did he know the money I gave him was all that was left in my wallet?
The man on the train automatically assumed since I was wearing an Oracle Team USA racing jacket that I was living a privileged life. Little did he know that I had been wearing the same clothes that filled the suitcase next to me for the last five months? Little did he know that the main reason I didn’t want to part with my belongings was because it was all I had? Little did he know that the PUMA shoes I wore were a gift for being a volunteer for the America’s Cup, and that I was grateful to have those shoes since my only other pair had holes in them?
Can you really recognize the face of homelessness?
I’ll never forget how happy I was when I learned that I had been accepted as an Event Ambassador for the America’s Cup races. All of the sudden I was part of something, something big, and I didn’t feel as alone as I had for those months when life threw me a curveball. Not many people knew the pain I had been through leading up to that August day in 2013. Not many knew that I had suffered from a severe back injury for seven months leading up to the Opening Ceremonies of the America’s Cup, or how hard I fought to heal my back injury so that I could fulfill my duties as an Event Ambassador.
When I arrived in San Francisco and departed the train I met up with a new friend I had met through the America’s Cup. She offered me a place to lay my head for a few days in Sausalito. I was so grateful. I look back at that time in my life and there are moments like this particular day that I try to forget. However, I can’t forget, because days like that made me strong enough to survive.
Now two years later I wake each morning in my beautiful home in Los Angeles and I thank God for the bed beneath me. I’m grateful for the roof over my head. There are days when I still struggle financially and food is scarce, but I manage. I am healthy and I am happy, and I’m doing my part to share my story and support others who find themselves in a state of transition.
So the next time you meet someone who you feel is acting rude or selfish, take a deep breath and ask yourself, do I really know their story? It is so easy to assume behavior. To that man on the train I so badly wanted to tell him the truth about my situation. I so badly wanted to ask him to look at his beautiful family that he was sharing this special day with, and be grateful. I so wanted to tell him to enjoy the baseball game while I figured out where I was going to lay my head next. But I didn’t, because somewhere deep down, I knew that his actions had nothing to do with me, the same with the cab driver. It was their personal beliefs, their own stories, which were the cause of their behavior towards me.
Since moving to Los Angeles I have met many homeless people in passing. I actually take the time to listen to them share their stories because it’s fascinating how they ended up the way they did. Most just happened to run into bad luck. They couldn’t find work, they divorced. The came here looking for something better. We’re all on this journey called life and every single day is a gift. Make sure you cherish it.