There were 19 excellent talks at today’s TEDx Rainier, but we only stood up to clap for one. It won’t be online yet, but as soon as it is (give it a week or so), watch Rex Hohlbein’s talk about homelessness. If, like Hohlbein, you cry easily, keep some kleenex handy. And perhaps keep some cash handy in your pocket for the next time you see a homeless person. For as Hohlbein says, no one— NO ONE— chooses to live on the street.
You might have heard about Rex Hohlbein’s work in the media already. You might have seen his dignified, normalizing photos of homeless people. Seeing theses faces on the huge screen at McCaw Hall was a stunning experience. They shared the stage today with Congressman Jim McDermott, seven-time Mt. Everest summiter Ed Viesturs, astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, and others.
Hohlbein’s talk is full of anecdotes, some funny and many sad. What got under my skin was not the stories, however, but the storyteller. I felt moved, honored, and humbled by this man. The underlying message was “of course”. Of course homeless people have value. Of course they are real. Of course they do not choose to live on the street. Of course they seek real connection with other people. Of course they deserve a hand up.
Of course we would stand and applaud vociferously for a man who invites homeless strangers into his office, lets them dry off on a rainy day, creates a facebook page for them, gets to know them personally, and as one of the men who spent time in his office said so poignantly, gives them a chance to be a part of something “normal”.
On our way home, my son, his good friend, and I came to a red light at 175th and the off-ramp from I-5. There on the corner was a woman with a sign that said “Anything Helps.” Of course we all reached into our pockets and shared a little of our good luck with her. The smile on her face and the tone of her voice when I told her, “This is from my son” spoke volumes. I think that made her happier than the little wad of cash.
Perhaps what we all want to know is how good we all are, when you get down to it. This is what we seek: for the goodness in me and the goodness in you to meet and celebrate. During the afternoon break just before Hohlbein’s talk, we walked near the fountain at Seattle Center and I saw, etched on a rock, this quote from Anne Frank: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are good.” Thank you, Rex Hohlbein, for reminding me today just how good we can be.