3 Life Lessons from a Homeless Man Named Matt

I was walking to a workshop on Coaching Success in downtown San Diego with one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Robert Holden, when I passed by a young man who was wearing tattered clothes and looked as if he had not seen a shower in days. I said good morning, as I do with most people I see, and kept walking.

What happened next stopped me in my tracks. "Thank you" was whispered at me in a soft, crackling voice. "I am sorry. I didn't quite catch what you said." I had heard him. I was just so surprised by the words since most people respond with a smile. Was he really thanking me for saying good morning? I had to hear it again just to make sure.

"I said thank you. No one ever sees me," said this young man.

"I see you." I told the young man. As I looked into the depth of his eyes beyond the dirt covering his face any fears I may have had about him, and there were a few, completely disappeared. Just a day earlier Dr. Robert Holden taught us an exercise looking in another person's eyes and really seeing their true essence. We also do a similar exercise at the University of Santa Monica called Soul Gazing. How magical I got to experience the feeling of my barriers of fear breaking down and being truly connected to another soul in this way.

I learned this young man's name, Matt, and his story of losing his job due to his mental illness and his family deserting him leaving him to fend for himself on the streets. My father also has a mental illness and it made Matt's story even more touching for me. I saw my father in his eyes. I saw Matt. I saw myself.

Life Lesson #1: I invite you to think about the last time you really looked into someone's eyes and felt this open, vulnerable, and connected. Try it today with your family and friends. If you are really feeling courageous, try looking into the depths of the eyes of a complete stranger and they will be a stranger no more!

Matt and I parted ways. I went off to learn about defining success from the heart. Matt went off to go spanging (asking for spare change). How different our lives were yet here our paths had crossed even if just for a moment in time. I was full of gratitude.

At my lunch break I walked a few blocks away from the workshop to find a place to relax. I got a beautiful spot outside where I could watch the day, and all the tourists, stroll by. Who is the first person to stroll by? Matt! I was elated because I knew this was no coincidence and invited Matt to join me. Matt and I picked up our conversation from where we left it earlier. I learned how challenging it was for him living on the streets and his dreams to get a job.

Matt excused himself to use the restroom and came back with tears rolling down his face. He confided in me that people were staring at him in the bathroom. He was so confused and hurt because he thought he looked halfway decent and clean. I agreed. Somewhere between 7AM and now he had found a way to wash his face and hands and looked a million times more put together than when I met him that morning. It broke my heart to think about all the judgmental stares he may get in a single day. I thought about how many judgmental stares I might give in a single day.

Life Lesson #2: Be conscious of how you look at everyone even if just for one day. What are you thinking as you look at them? Where are the judgments coming from? Could you look at them with love? How would they feel being looked at with love? How would you feel?

As we finished lunch Matt had half of his sandwich wrapped up. He explained to me that he could only eat a little now as his stomach had shrunk so much. Ugh. Here I am worried about what to cook each meal and he doesn't even know if he'll get a meal.

As powerful as my time with Matt had been thus far I was completely humbled by what happened next. Matt and I walked out of the restaurant and were approached by a man that appeared to be homeless who did not seem to know Matt. This man asked if we had anything to eat. Without any hesitation Matt gave him the rest of his lunch. Here is a man that has no idea where his food will come from next and he gave what I considered his guarantee to another man.

Matt's generosity hit me so hard. I thought I was being generous buying Matt lunch and it was a nice gesture. However, buying Matt lunch was not going to change what I ate that night or the next 20 years for that matter. Matt gave EVERYTHING he had to another man in need and expected nothing in return. This seems like the purest form of generosity and something for me to learn from.

Life Lesson #3: I invite you to look at generosity in your own life. What ways do you like to be generous? Maybe it is your time, your smile, or bringing your neighbor cookies (I like chocolate chip just in case my neighbors read this). It does not matter what you give. It just matters that you give from the heart.

I often think of Matt and the lessons he taught me of really connecting to another soul, looking at others with love, and true generosity, and now, hopefully you will too!

Jessica Zemple