Every day, I go to the same Starbucks, and almost every day, the same homeless man sits outside, often in the same clothes, with the same bundle of belongings.
Each time I see him, I say hi, ask how his day is, and give him whatever money or food I can, because I know that most people pass him by with pity. I try to treat him like a real person, who deserves as much respect, kindness and courtesy as anyone else.
By actually treating this man with respect and talking to him for the last few months, I've got to know a person whose dreams reach to the stars, with a passion for bettering the world and himself.
In our last conversation, he told me, "I plan to be a father someday. I want to have kids from all over the place, you know all different kinds of people, and I want to make sure they're all loved and successful."
This man -- who is ostracized and lacking the love that most of us have -- has more love in his heart than most people. Even lacking basic dignities, his focus is still on helping other people.
In the same conversation, he told me, "Someday I'll create this city, and you know people like to visit cities. I'll have all different kinds of people, you know from all diverse backgrounds, like all walks of life. People will want to visit because everyone will be nice, good, and well-off."
With a heart so full, he also suffers from mental illness, likely schizophrenia. Even though he's full of passion, many of his dreams are delusional, and for that reason, he's brushed aside.
We can all learn a lot by his boundless hope, passion, and love. Even with every obstacle stacked against him, he still holds his dreams tight. "I'm trying to get my degree in biology right now. And then, eventually, I'll go back to school and become a doctor," he said.
My mother is also schizophrenic. She's given medication, a meager amount of money, and left to fend for herself. Often, she tells me that she wants a purpose, a job of some sort, to feel like her life means something. But our society doesn't make room for people like her to have a job or make a contribution, because even on medication, she doesn't fit within our norms.
These people suffering from mental illness, especially severe mental illness, are like the rest of us. They have dreams, hopes and feelings. Many, like the homeless man I regularly see, are full of intelligence, love, passion and resilience, yet we're blind to all of those qualities. We only see the mental illness.
People suffering from mental illness are ostracized, treated as worthless, and often lacking basic necessities because of an illness outside of their control.
It's time we figure out how to treat people who are different than us, especially those who suffer from severe mental illnesses, like human beings: to make sure they're clothed, housed and fed. To make them feel like their lives aren't meaningless.
Until then, I'll be saddened, not by the fact that these people are different, but by the fact that our society refuses to learn how to accept them.