He walks on, doesn’t look back
He pretends he can’t hear her
He starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there – Phil Collins, Another Day in Paradise

Yorba Linda and Anaheim Hills are quiet suburban community where many people live but few actually work, what we always called bedroom communities.  In the years we’ve been here, only the death of Richard Nixon (who was born in Yorba Linda), the dedication of the Richard Nixon Library and the periodic wildfires that sweep through our hills attract the attention of the national news.   That changed on Friday, January 13 when a homeless man was murdered in Anaheim Hills near a fast food restaurant.   A bistander by the name of Donny witnessed the vicious stabbing and chased the man into a local mobile home community, where the police apprehended him.  The killer, an Iraq veteran, had killed three other homeless men after stalking them over a period of two weeks, stabbing them up to forty times.

The Santa Ana River, which flows through Anaheim Hills and Yorba Linda is surrounded by park-like bike trails and provides plenty of bridges that can provide shelter to the homeless.  During the day, Yorba Regional Park provides picnic tables and restrooms.  At any given time, there are a half dozen or so homeless men that I see during my time in the park or riding along the river trail.   I recognize them more by their clothes or by their gait or by a shopping cart or bicycle loaded with their belongings.  They’re Faceless, not because they don’t have faces but because, like the businessman in Phil Collin’s song, I’m uncomfortable around the homeless.  I don’t look them in the eye.  If they ask, I may or may not give them some money but I don’t try to strike up a conversation.

On my way to the park on Wednesday, I stopped at our local Carl’s Jr. restaurant to get a drink.  A large and impromptu memorial had sprung up where the last victim was murdered, notes and posters and flowers.   The posters said, We love you, John.  I looked on from a distance, thinking, Really?  On the door to Carl’s there was a poster for a community walk on Saturday to raise money for John Berry’s burial.   The man had a name.  People cared.  Thursday, I took a run along the trail behind the park.  Tucked among some pine trees was another small memorial.  Pinned to a tree was a letter that read:

Dear John,

This is the spot where I met you six years ago.  I never knew then how you would affect my life now.  I enjoyed our talks along the riverbed.  I’m so glad you met my family and that my kids got to know you.  I will remember our last hug on January 5, 2012.  I will never forget you and I miss you deeply.  May God hold you close in His arms.  This community has lost a beautiful soul that lived amongst us.  I bet your view of the sunrises and sunsets are beautiful.  I’m glad we have a new angel that we met on earth first.

Love and friendship,
Krista, Todd, Alex, and Christopher

There were flowers, cards and candles around the letter.  There was also a picture of John Berry.   He had a face.  He was a man I’d seen many times, navigating the park paths with his bicycle, his belongings piled on the back.  Frequently, he was talking to other park people.  I once said, Hello.   There are many times I look at our species and wonder what God was thinking.  But Thursday, I cried a little, touched that people like Krista, Todd, Alex and Christopher took the time to get to know John Berry and give him a face.  I’m not naive … I know that every homeless man isn’t a John Berry.  The pictures of the other three men murdered are, in fact, pretty scary.   I just hope next time I pass a homeless man on the trail, I’ll take time to look him in the eye.  Because it must be hard to go through your days Faceless.

Explore posts in the same categories: spirituality

Tags: , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

27 Comments on “Faceless”

  1. This touched me. I mean really touched me.

    Your words, your honesty.

    It couldn’t have been easy to write, it couldn’t have been easy to accept that just maybe you could have made a difference to this man’s life with a simple “hello, how are you today?”

    We all take people acknowledging us for granted. From now on I will think twice when I see a homeless person, and like you said, look them in the eye, so they have a face. I will greet them and ask them how they are. I will value them.

    Thank you so much for opening my eyes.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I was sitting here, mentally griping about how few comments I get on Bud’s Blog, particularly on Sunday … and then, there you were. It was actually easy to write because the letter and shrine touched me deeply. Much harder to walk up to a homeless man and strike up a conversation, I think. Thanks for your comment. and appreciation.

  2. I can’t even type a comment, because I am crying too hard.

  3. marjulo Says:

    A touching post! The memorial is amazing. I’ve seen acknowledgements for friends or families lost, but never one for a homeless person. Like you, I find it hard to look at a homeless person in the face. There are so many of them and they denote something shameful about our society. I do smile and say “hello” to other strangers, but not the homeless. That says a lot about me–something equally shameful.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say shameful. It is well-documented that a substantial percentage of the homeless have substance or mental illness issues, so caution is justified. But caution is one thing and indifference is another. As singlecell says below, simple acknowledgment is important.

  4. Beautiful post. Jack has done some work with the homeless and told me that, more than anything, what they want is to be seen. If they look at you, they want you to look back at them. He said they’ve told him they need that more than money, that if you choose not to give them anything, what they need is your acknowledgment. I try to remember that when I see homeless people, but it’s hard. I suppose it might be easier for a man than a woman walking alone, but I try to remember.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I think I like this Jack guy. I agree … it’s hard. You don’t know how they’ll react. You don’t know if they’ll ask for money. You don’t know if they’ll buy a meal or alcohol. But as marjulo said, a big part of it is embarrassment that they exist in our affluent society. I fix an expensive roof leak on a minutes notice. They’re looking for the next meal. This is closer to home in my family than I’d disclose here and still, it’s hard. I try to remember, too.

  5. mamitamama Says:

    Part of my resolution this year involves being more kind to everyone. I’m a 26 yr old woman, so it’s scary sometimes feeling like I’ll be taken advantage of if I’m nice to people. But I’ve been putting it to the test, and it makes me sad to realize that so many people are starving for affection. This past week I’ve had conversations in an elevator, at a gas station, at the park. I’ve come to realize that almost everyone is a friend waiting to be discovered.

    • oldereyes Says:

      Indeed. As I’ve gotten older (I’m 67), I’ve become more of a casual conversationalist when I’m out. Once in a while, I find someone with whom I wish I hadn’t, but mostly people are nice … and differences are skin deep.

  6. Carolyn Says:

    Your essay was beautiful. Thank you.

    I often ran the trails alone and believe it or not, I felt safer if I saw John during my run. It meant all was right with the world.

    There is a 4th tribute for him on “John’s Bench” along the river trail, just east of Imperial Highway, where he often sat and/or slept.

    John was a very special resident in our community. I think he found a home in our hearts.

  7. abby Says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article. His death has deeply affected everyone who ever knew him. It is good to see that something good has come out of a horrible tragedy. Everyone has a story, even people that are faceless. I know that I will NEVER look at a homeless person the same again.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I knew he was special when I began to see the emotion in the community. This post has begun to “go viral.” It seems to be reaching many people. I hope John’s smiling somewhere.

  8. Krista Says:

    Dear Oldereyes,
    I am the one who left the note. Someone tagged me on facebook when they posted your blog. I started reading it and then when I noticed my letter, I was stunned and wanted to cry. I knew people would read it, but it was for John and something I had to write to him. I didn’t even think about it touching someone else at the time. I don’t even know if how John Berry touched my life can truely be conveyed. My heart aches at the thought of not being able to hug him again or hear him say, “hello Krista, how’s the family”? I can hear him now. I had been posting my worries about him on facebook when the killings started and we talked about it. He said at one time he may leave the area due to not feeling at peace. I cried and told him to return when things settle down. He knew I cared for him deeply. I could tell in his eyes that last day we hugged on Jan. 5, 2012 in the middle of CVS. A couple days before that he asked to hug me. Of course I said yes! That hug from him was like it was going to be our last, but it wasn’t and I’m glad. I, too, don’t go up to every homeless person I see. I had observed others talking with John and then one day I said HI! I was hooked 🙂 A connection grew through the years. I’m not the only one who feels his loss. There are many of us. He was a fixture in our community that brought out kindness in many. He never asked for anything and because of that, I started helping him. Now, I don’t go to church every Sunday, but I am religious. I told my mother one day that I felt like I was talking to Jesus when I talked with John. Those eyes of his were the window to his soul. He truely listened to you. I felt like maybe I was being tested by God. I’m glad my children knew him. I believe they learned something from John, too. My son Christopher, who’s name was also on the letter, was very angry, as was my daughter, Alex. They have now been touched by the viciousness that exists in this world. But John always said that God had a plan. I have to trust in that. So, as John always said when parting, “God Bless You”.

    • oldereyes Says:

      Thank you for finding me and your heartfelt comment. I’m sorry I left your son off my post of your letter … I thought it might be your last name so I didn’t use it. I’ve changed my post to include your son. Your letter really did touch me. As I said, I know all homeless people aren’t like John. But they are people. We forget that too often.

  9. I just had to follow these comments. I don’t think a blog post has ever touched me as much, nor the comments that followed.

    The world, and so many people I know personally, are going through some tough times, but the reality of the humility and love that strangers have shown for one another really has gone such a long way in restoring my faith in humanity.

    Thank God for such kind souls who walk among us, and I am sure that John knew in his soul the part he was playing in God’s plan bringing joy to so many in his community.

  10. What a beautiful, sad, but also very touching piece of writing and a wonderful tribute to John. He made a mark in so may lives without even meaning to. Look at how his legacy lives on. Thank you for writing this and sharing the story with us all and thank you to a dear friend of mine who pointed me in this direction. xx

    • oldereyes Says:

      Thank you very much … and to your friend. This message seems to be reaching farther than I ever expected … whihc may be another of John’s gifts to the world.

  11. territerri Says:

    Beautifully written. I think many of us are like you. We don’t look at the homeless. We pretend not to notice. It’s uncomfortable. I would like to be more like Krista, Todd and Alex. Your words may help me (and others) to see the homeless not as “the homeless” but as people, like the rest of us.

    • Krista Says:

      Please don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty if you have not spoken to a homeless person. I don’t stop everytime I see someone on the street either. I was leary at first when I saw John, but eventually I did stop. I’m sure there are other Johns out there. Unfortunately, there are some homeless, who through behavior or vices, keep us from getting close. I’m sure there are other Johns out there. I wish everyone could meet their John one day. My daughter went to Santa Monica about a week after John’s death and came across a homeless man. She did give him all her change from her wallet. But, along with doing so, she asked how he was. It made him happy that she actually asked how he was!! A key fell out along with the change and he gave it back because he thought it was to something important. He, too, cared. She told him to have a nice day and he did the same to her. I’m proud of her for doing so, but I do caution her to not approach anyone by herself or if it’s not out for others to see. You still have to protect yourself. So, to all who read this, I’m not saying to give to every homeless you see. Just once in a while, take a moment, if the opportunity presents itself, to help or just say hello to a fellow human in need. I know it will change you, especially if you get a smile in return.

    • oldereyes Says:

      Thanks, Terri. I’m really glad you got to read this post. It probably sits in my top ten favorites, Nothing makes wirting flow like having your heart in it … and my heart was certainly in this story. The fact that Krista, who wrote the letter, found her way here and that it was picked up by the remembering John Berry homeless memorial group on Facebook, makes it even more special, perhaps a way to participate in John’s life posthumously.

  12. Val Says:

    Providing they’re not drunk or otherwise ‘off their faces’ as we sometimes say here in the UK, I generally talk to homeless people because, to me, they are simply ordinary people who have nowhere to live. I don’t differentiate between people just according to their circumstances.

    The tributes to this murdered man are beautiful and your ability to write about it and your feelings surely are too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: