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Compassion for a homeless man
Date: Saturday, Jan. 10, 2004
Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Place: Parking garage with Dennis Kucinich
Saturday night, I found myself in a parking garage with Dennis Kucinich and a sleeping homeless man. This is our story.
It begins with me, a life-long Republican at an Iowa Democratic Party fundraiser. Four presidential candidates speak. Thousands of dollars are raised.
As we leave the ballroom, I ask Kucinich a question that mentions a homeless man sleeping in the stairwell of the hotel's parking garage. Kucinich immediately responds, "He's there now? I'll go visit him." And 20 minutes later, we meet at the garage's entrance - a congressman, an aide, a security agent and me.
The four of us walk down the dark stairwell. Kucinich stops. He doesn't want to frighten the sleeping man, and whispers to us to keep our distance. Three of us stand 10 steps above the concrete floor this sleeping man calls home.
Below, the congressman stands motionless, staring at this man whose poverty is absolute. Is Kucinich thinking of his own past? As a boy, his family sometimes lived in cars. Tonight, Kucinich's face says more to me than any speech he's ever given. I believe that he is suffering right along with this helpless and hopeless sleeping man. It is 25 degrees out tonight. How cold was the boy in Cleveland who called cars home?
The congressman finally kneels beside the man and leaves a gift. What will the homeless man buy with the significant amount of money Kucinich has left him? I'd like to think he is a Jean Valjean, a discouraged man for whom one display of compassion and generosity will inspire a new beginning. I'd like to think he will not buy drugs or alcohol. I'd like to be less cynical.
Before I joined the campaign trail, friends quipped that I'd come back a Democrat. I doubt it. But I also doubt that I will ever forget the sleeping man whose name I never knew and whose face I never saw. Nor will I forget the look of compassion on the face of a motionless Dennis Kucinich, as he visited a man whom most of his party and most of his country would rather ignore.
Compassion comes from a Greek word meaning, "to suffer with."
Duke senior Justin Walker, a "political junkie" from Louisville, Ky., is on the Democratic Party campaign trail as part of an independent study project. He is filing periodic dispatches for the Duke Web site.
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