We Don’t Know What We Don’t Have Until We Have Nothing, Then it’s Clear

“remember to love the person next to us harder, spend more time playing with the kids, walk the dog, sleep in from time to time, and demonstrate appreciation for everything gained and held”


Yesterday, when leaving a job site in Philadelphia, I came upon this couple sleeping under the bridge. I’ve seen the poor, I’ve witnessed destitution, and I’ve encountered unfortunate souls in unique places. What caught me–the thing that really shocked me– was that they weren’t just sleeping there; they had established a home.

Slowly I passed their spot, the two of them closed off to the waking world and hopefully lost in a more pleasant reality. The area they occupied claimed about as much space as my own room, and was equipped with a bed, dresser, cooler, and even a rack to hang their towels from. The bed itself was more than barrier to separate them from the ground, the contents like any normal bed with sheets and pillows.

I’ve seen those men and woman sleeping on benches, streets, and enclosed stairways, but never have I seen a home. It struck me hard, going deeper than a superficial impact. I saw a story with the two. I saw the pizza box and thought about how they likely had a dinner in bed together. I saw their closeness and thought that regardless of how down on their luck they appeared to be, their was an element of optimism to be seen through it all, because, worse than having nothing is having nothing alone.

Though sad, there was some good to see in the situation. Observing someone’s misfortune is an opportunity to reflect on oneself. There are days when I feel like I have nothing and no one, but it isn’t accurate. There are days that I fail to see the walls around me and the roof over my head; I see them so often I just forget their importance. There is food in my refrigerator, a shower upstairs, washing machine in the basement, and most important, I never have to wake up and think to myself, “what now?” Once, I heard a motivational speaker say something about loving the idea of hitting rock bottom, because there is nowhere to go but up. I believe this. To have nothing and be able to survive must feel in someway like being reborn.

When you see a homeless person with a sign, many people will assume they're asking for money but most of them just want an opportunity to live in a home and to have a minimum wage paying job. They want change.

If I woke up tomorrow with nothing, and lived like this couple, everything in life would have a new light. Having a table to eat at would enthuse me and having a door to lock at night would provide the feeling of security. My appreciation for things as simple as walls and lights would be renewed, and my love for the many other things that I now take for granted would be accelerated, like that of an inquisitive child. The most important thing would be the relationships. My feeling of being with the person I love, in a secure environment, where we have everything we need for comfort and security, would be so much stronger, because with nothing else to really worry about, we could give so much more to each other. Life and everything that I would gain would have an element of magic, and my appreciation for its acquisition would bring new joy.

Though, we don’t always live with this enthusiasm. We crowd our lives with unnecessary worry and produce problems that most with nothing would see as trivial matters. Without the true worry of having to figure out what’s next and what we are going to eat tonight, we take the time with loved ones to sometimes fight over problems that have no bearing on our quality of life or security. We waste our time on menial tasks and thoughtless entertainment, rather than taking a walk or having a conversation about something that has nothing to do with how we are going to survive the night or next day.

We often create our own alternate realities when we realistically have nothing to worry about. But when our true reality steps in, we are somehow pulled back down, and yanked from misguided conceptions of life. Seeing anyone with nothing should spark some thought in you. Coming to the realization that we often forget what we have is powerful and seeing someone else’s misfortune is sometimes just the reminder that we need. This gives us the chance to remember to love the person next to us harder, spend more time playing with the kids, walk the dog, sleep in from time to time, and demonstrate appreciation for everything gained and held, without the worry of having to fight for it moment to moment.

Until the next time and next topic, stay happy!