Today, at lunchtime, I watched a homeless friend walk across the busy street near my office. His name is Vladimir. He is one of the most recognizable people wandering the streets of Honolulu in his trench coat, floppy hat, and pulling a luggage cart. He has been on the street in Hawai'i for 21 years and homeless most of his adult life. As he crossed two consecutive streets today, laboring with each step, exhausted, in his worn-out 74 year-old body, numerous cars failed to stop and yield to him as they often do for "regular" looking people. They zipped past him dangerously close and seemingly impatient. I couldn't help but wonder if drivers valued his life and his safety less than other pedestrians. Thinking he is a nobody.
I had noticed Vladimir for years, but one day while I was working with a homeless couple who used to live on a street corner near my office about seven years ago, I saw Vladimir walking past in his usual labored steps, but he reached into his bag and pulled out some food bags filled with food, and kindly gave it to the homeless people I was with. Then he continued on his way. I was so touched at his generosity given his own dire situation.
The recipients were equally grateful. They were kind themselves. A Puerto-Rican man named Carlos, in a wheelchair, with one leg amputated, and his Native Hawaiian partner, Judy, who was also in a wheelchair with highly swollen and infected feet. They had needed a blue tarp and some other items which I was able to secure for them. One night, the Honolulu Police came by and picked up all their belongings and threw them into a garbage truck and drove off. Even things I had brought them. The chargers to their electric wheelchairs were also amongst the items thrown away stranding them both. But that is another story.
So I befriended Vladimir and would talk with him when I could, and help him out in small ways. He had grown up in Austria and Poland, then moved to Germany where his Mother and he came to America from the devastation of World War II.
His Mother died and he was placed into a State Hospital in New Jersey at age 15. After seven years there, he was released and he headed to Florida alone. He then ended up in Ohio and was shown by another homeless man how to hop trains to travel around the country. He began to hop trains and travel around the United States. One time, he was in an empty train car when the train slid off of the tracks. 34 cars in front of him flipped and crashed but his car remained on the tracks and upright. He realizes that he should have been dead.
He lived like a vagabond until he ended up back in Florida where he was able to find work. He saved up money and came to Hawai'i. He said he doesn't have to worry about freezing to death and the kindness of strangers here helps him survive like no other place. Some businesses provide him meals even though they themselves are struggling to survive. He has a network of Angels who help sustain his Life out of pure Aloha. I am eternally grateful to them.
About seven years ago, he was going to sleep on a bus stop near the former Hard Rock Cafe and someone came up to him and punched him in his face. His nose became swollen and he showed me his left nostril which is obstructed with some type of fleshy growth. His nose is visibly misshapen and he said it is hard for him to breathe through his nose since that incident.
Most recently, he was sleeping near the new Honolulu Police Station and groups of teenagers would come through the area late at night, or in the early hours, and hassle him and other homeless. They would slice open all his pockets with a razor or other sharp instrument while he slept and take whatever spilled out of his pockets, whatever money he had saved. He started sewing up his pockets and the cuts and sought shelter in Kaka'ako for awhile so he could sleep safely.
He recently was able to move into a transitional shelter and has about 18 months to find a more secure place. He said his body really hurts now and he gets sick more often. His eyes are getting bad and he had a bad hernia from leaning over and pulling his heavy cart all these years. We compared our herniated belly-buttons and commiserated with each other.
His coat is faded and torn, and he spends his days quietly and carefully sewing up the holes, tears and worn out parts. He has been offered a newer coat, but says he has put too much of his energy and Life into sewing up this coat, so he will continue to sew it. The upper back part of the coat has the most repair work done in a complete covering of black thread as the merciless Sun shines down on his back everyday and wears out the fabric quicker there.
So if you see Vladimir, please give him a smile, a "hello" or even some spare change. He is a beautiful kind Soul. He says he likes to sew his old worn out coat because it makes the time and the days go by quicker. Quicker to no ultimate goal of comfort or excess. Nor to any hope of an improved situation. Vladimir exists everyday to survive to the next morning. All his energy and focus is centered on this task.
So I know as he sews each tear and rip, he is really sewing up a multitude of real scars. Torn parts of his life. Ripped shreds of his heart and dreams. I know his beautiful Mother still loves her little boy and worries about him. My life is definitely richer for knowing him and for loving him. He helps me mend my deep scars as well. So if you see Vladimir crossing the street, hunched over, carrying the World on his back. Slow down, give him time to cross. Be patient in this busy hustle-bustle modern life. His Life means a lot to me and to others. He isn't a "regular" person...and I thank God, from deep down, for that...