There’s a halfway house in my neighborhood for mentally ill men. As I walk my dog, I pass many of them sitting on park benches. At first, I would just smile and nod. Then after a while, I actually opened my mouth and said, “Hello.” Then, they started saying hello back. Before I knew it, I was striking up conversations.
A friend walked with me once, and saw all the men say hello to me. She said, with big eyes, “You really shouldn’t talk to them.”
I said, “Why not?”
“Well, aren’t you afraid? Don’t you think one might follow you home, or try to hurt you?”
I just stopped and looked at her. Fear was all over her face.
A few weeks later, a dog on the loose attacked my dog, which was on a leash. The other dog’s owner screamed bloody murder at ME because my dog protected me and himself by fighting him off. She went on and on about how she was going to call the cops and shoot my dog and blah blah blah. Well, these “scary” men all got up and came to my aid. They told her to get lost, try keeping your dog on a leash, leave this lady alone! She took her dog and scuttled away.
That’s when one of them turned to me and said, “You’re a nice lady. You don’t deserve that. Most people don’t say boo to us, they don’t even look at us. You always smile and say hello. That means a lot.”
I bit my lip to keep from crying right there. And for days afterward, they all asked how I was doing and how was my dog and did he get hurt and etc. They showed more compassion than most “sane” people.
Please check out my Freestyle Volunteer project at How I started Freestyle Volunteering, tabbed above. (As a Freestyle Volunteer I meet with individuals sharing our public spaces who are socially isolated by mental illness or homelessness at a cafe, one hour a week, for coffee and conversation.)