Kismet, Destiny…Fate?

A few morn­ings ago, I gave $0.75 and a free cof­fee to an old home­less guy a block or two from my office.

(Stop, stop. That makes the entire incident—and myself, for that matter—sound far more char­i­ta­bly-mind­ed than it should. Let’s start again.)

I blew past an old home­less guy on the street a few morn­ings ago, only vague­ly aware that the poor man was sit­ting out­side  in -20something weath­er as I peeled through the dozen or so things in my head. When I reached into my pock­et for my phone, my fin­ger hit some change and a free cof­fee stub I had stuffed in there on my way out the door, kick­ing my guilt into high gear and forc­ing me to shame­ful­ly walk back and toss that change and cof­fee stub into his cup, all while fool­ish­ly think­ing that my con­science would be appeased and I could car­ry on with my morn­ing. (That’s more like it.)

Thanks for turn­ing around, he said as I walked up, obvi­ous­ly aware of the ass­hole that flew past him ear­li­er. As I was craft­ing some guilt-soaked bull­shit to offer up for not stop­ping, he reached out to fist-bump me and blurt­ed out every lit­tle bit helps broth­er, gen­er­ous­ly let­ting me off the hook. Too kind of him, real­ly.

He looked down at the cof­fee tab in his cup. Now I don’t have to spend any of this on a cof­fee. Thanks for that, awe­some. That begged the ques­tion of what he was going to spend the smat­ter­ing of change in his cup on instead. I typ­i­cal­ly don’t ask, but the ques­tion popped out before I could swal­low it down.

I’m sav­ing it up, he said. A bit here, a bit there, every day.  

He start­ed telling me about his idea to have a cart. A fleet of carts, in fact: some­thing that he could sell bot­tles of water from in the sum­mer, or cof­fees and blan­kets in the win­ter, or maybe even umbrel­las in the wet rainy spring months. He’d have oth­ers work­ing for him, too.

There are home­less peo­ple all around the world, broth­er — liv­ing on the street, beg­ging for dimes and nick­els. It would be good for them, too.

A glob­al oper­a­tion.

He clear­ly had lots of oth­er ideas float­ing around in his head and was excit­ed to tell them to some­one that looked like he was gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed (I was). The pas­sion he spoke with was pal­pa­ble: his face glowed and his eyes danced as he paced back and forth, as if he could­n’t con­trol his feet. It was hyp­not­ic; in a strange way, I found myself feel­ing a touch jeal­ous.

I told him it was a great idea and that he should do it; he quick­ly coun­tered with I can’t. Before I could launch into him on the cop-out I can’t  is, he fol­lowed up with an expla­na­tion: to do it requires mon­ey, and no bank would ever give him some because he’s just some home­less guy with no cred­it or col­lat­er­al, liv­ing on the street. While we were stand­ing there talk­ing, I had men­tal­ly bun­dled up the assort­ment of blan­kets and card­board he was stand­ing on, swapped out the dirty par­ka and toque for a slick hair­cut and a nice suit (there was a mat­ter of some miss­ing teeth, but that was address­able); and if I had tak­en that fel­low to work with me, he would have eas­i­ly been con­fused with any of the dozens of well-paid, non-home­less exec­u­tives I talk to every sin­gle day. Maybe the pas­sion he spoke with would have giv­en him away; few peo­ple I meet in any giv­en day has that kind of pas­sion about any­thing, but that’s anoth­er Ram­blingsss entire­ly.  In that instant, I realised that he could have been any num­ber of peo­ple I work with. He could have been me.

So. Where did he and I veer away from each oth­er on the Path of Life? What hap­pened on his path that led him to call a milk crate on a vent at the side of a busy city street his office, his rest­ing spot — the place he took a nap? And what along my path wound me up in a life so far removed from all of that? And how frag­ile is all of it?

Time for a lit­tle game, Face­less.

Let’s say that I go back and find my lit­tle home­less guy tomor­row. When I find him, I cut him a check to get his lit­tle busi­ness ven­ture off the ground. It could eas­i­ly be argued that for rea­sons com­plete­ly out of his con­trol, that he was left with no oth­er option but to take refuge on the street; per­haps it was men­tal ill­ness that got him there, or a life that fell so com­plete­ly and total­ly off the rails that he had no oth­er choice than liv­ing in an alley, or under a bridge. Maybe he had no sup­port struc­ture to speak of in his life: no fam­i­ly mem­ber to take him in, no friend to loan him a spot on the couch and a few dol­lars to get him past a rough spot. Chew on that thought for a minute. If your world went total­ly pear-shaped, where would you go? Maybe you’d end up right where he is. Maybe.

With my invest­ment dol­lars in hand, he buys a cart—maybe two or three carts—and stocks them with goods, hires a cou­ple others…they take to the streets, hawk­ing their wares, chang­ing lives. Sounds good, right? He’s got a mean­ing­ful income—better than a few coins tossed into his cup by an ass­hole like Yours Tru­ly out of pity or shame—and he feels like he’s accom­plish­ing some­thing, all while mak­ing a dif­fer­ence for a few oth­ers that need­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty thrown their way. He gets off the street and finds an apart­ment, meets a love­ly lady or fel­low, and this ugly peri­od of his life is behind him. There have been lots of rags to rich­es sto­ries; peo­ple pulling them­selves up from noth­ing and doing what seems to be the impos­si­ble. Maybe he could be one of them.


What both­ers me so much is the fact that I can counter my ear­li­er argu­ment with this: maybe, just maybe, he was sup­posed to be there. And maybe it did­n’t mat­ter what I or any­one else did to alter the less-than-desir­able real­i­ty he calls Life, his path would always end right where I found him: sit­ting on a flipped-over crate wait­ing for some­one to throw a guilt-dipped quar­ter into his raggedy paper cup. If  he was real­ly so ambi­tious, or if he was capa­ble enough to hold down a job or fol­low through on any kind of ven­ture, he would have already found the means to do some­thing—any­thing—to change his real­i­ty. I know many peo­ple that have found count­less ways to toss a hand grenade into their lives over the years, watched it glo­ri­ous­ly blow apart and rebuild them stronger than ever. I’ve known peo­ple to have and lose every­thing, swept away by addic­tions, break­downs and such, just to gath­er them­selves back up and stand proud­ly back on their feet. I also know more than a few peo­ple that, if it weren’t for the oceans of mon­ey they were lucky enough to be born into, they’d be keep­ing my new home­less friend com­pa­ny on that street cor­ner. Or worse.

So. Is it pos­si­ble that we were always going to be who and what we are? Pre­de­ter­mi­na­tion, kismet; call it what you will. I’ve always respect­ed the ele­ment of (and neces­si­ty for a good help­ing of) luck in one’s life, and am a big pro­po­nent of the con­cept that you cre­ate your own luck through the actions you take (or don’t),  or through the choic­es we make. But is it pos­si­ble that regard­less of how hard we work, or how much effort we put into fuck­ing things up, that it’s all for naught? That no mat­ter what we do or what we think we’re enti­tled to, there are inescapable forces at work—fate—that will ensure we end up in a par­tic­u­lar time, or in a par­tic­u­lar place? It’s a thought that’s both com­fort­ing and depress­ing, huh.

I met a man years ago that lived on a sim­i­lar street grate out­side of my office. As crazy as the day is long, he was; or so he appeared. The city was in the midst of an elec­tion and he had craft­ed his own cam­paign signs, announc­ing his can­di­da­cy for City Hall. I stopped to lis­ten to him hold­ing court on the side­walk one lunch hour, and he walked over to where I was stand­ing.

I need your vote – can I count on you?

I asked him why he thought he should be May­or… why on earth would I vote for him? He looked me square­ly in the eye and his voice took on a calm, eeri­ly-mea­sured tone that freaked me right the fuck out, far from the rav­ing lunatic that was stand­ing there a sec­ond before. He told me that no one else on the bal­lot had ever seen the city from his van­tage point; that no oth­er can­di­date watched the city pass them by from the side­walk and could pos­si­bly under­stand how des­per­ate some of its cit­i­zens were—for a few cents to buy a cof­fee, for access to social ser­vices, for the basic neces­si­ties of existence—and that he could speak for all of them. That’s why.

I looked at his old, weath­ered face and won­dered if I was just look­ing at an old­er, bizarro-world ver­sion of me? What was he, before he wound up here? Was he a politi­cian? Some­one’s father? Was he some­one’s hus­band or long lost broth­er – or just some­one that spec­tac­u­lar­ly checked out of the world and it had long ago aban­doned hope of ever find­ing him again? I was intrigued and want­ed so bad­ly to ask him where he came from, how he end­ed up there on the street cor­ner run­ning for May­or — but just as I was about to, he ran over to a cou­ple of women and told them a wild­ly crude joke about BJ’s and dirty penis­es (it was pret­ty damn fun­ny, I have to admit) before he cracked him­self up and pro­ceed­ed to lit­er­al­ly skip down the street. Men­tal weath­er fore­cast: luna­cy, with the odd chance of lucid­i­ty in the mid-after­noon.

I nev­er saw him again; clear­ly, his may­oral cam­paign was a fail­ure. But he’s stuck with me over the years… I’ve caught a glimpse of him in many of the home­less souls we all pass every day, our heads down and dis­tract­ed, or just choos­ing not to see them at all. Maybe a lit­tle of that lives on in my new home­less friend on the cor­ner. And I’m not sure if there’s any mer­it at all to the des­tiny aspect of my argu­ment… just toss­ing it around, real­ly. But I’ve often won­dered what would hap­pen in my own world, if it all came crum­bling apart. Maybe I’d be sit­ting on a milk crate too, plan­ning my glob­al cart empire; or maybe I’d be putting togeth­er my cam­paign plan for the next may­oral run. Or maybe I’d pull it all back togeth­er and end up where I start­ed again. Maybe, maybe. It def­i­nite­ly puts our lives in a dif­fer­ent light, does­n’t it?

Lat­er Face­less.

 ‑Your Writer



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  1. Are we fat­ed to our fates, or just crazy for think­ing the des­ti­na­tion is set and all we are doing is choos­ing the path…

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