A Man, His Dog and the Meaning of Home

Old Straw HatThis afternoon, I went with a friend to a meeting in the city. We arrived at the church where the meeting was supposed to take place. The gate was locked and no one was there. There was a man standing outside that gate too, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a battered straw hat. He had a suitcase with him, and a gorgeous Saint Bernard puppy panted at his feet.

He began talking to us, confused as to why the building was closed, which we were too but for different reasons. He was there for the nightly distribution of food for homeless people around the city who have nothing to eat. While I made phone calls to find out why our meeting was not there, he told my friend a bit of his story. I overheard bits and pieces as they spoke.

This is his story.

Three months ago he found this puppy, three months old at the time, abandoned. And he took the dog in. After a time, his landlord told him that he would either have to give up the dog or he and the dog would have to leave. He chose to keep the dog and leave his home.

He bought a suitcase, a sleeping bag, a tent and used a good portion of his money for dog food. He receives €778 (the equivalent of $1,022) a month as his retirement, not enough so far to find another apartment. He pulled his shirt out and said he’s lost several kilos during this time.

There was no one at the church at all. So my friend and I read the paper on the church bulletin board, which he couldn’t read because he didn’t have his glasses, and we found a number to call to find the nearest distribution center to this place.

My friend gave him 10 euros, and I gave him a bottle of water.  I called the number for him and found out a place nearby where he could go for food. As we shook his hand to say goodbye, the man in the straw hat – probably 60 years old – teared up and thanked us. And then we walked away.

On the drive home both my friend and I were speechless at this encounter which, had things worked out, would have never happened. Speechless at the mystery of it and our inability to explain things that don’t make sense.

We both saw our skepticism:

  • I thought I would have given up the dog and kept my home.
  • She thought this just couldn’t be true.

And yet we saw the simple truth too:

  • This tender-hearted man chose love and companionship over home.

As I write this now and I think about my search for home and my constant complaint that my life is too complicated and how I long to have “a real home”, this man came to teach me what not having a home means. And he came to teach me that love is more valuable than any physical home could be.

So I leave you with this story to make with it what you will and to think about the man in the straw hat with the Saint Bernard who will find his dinner tonight outside a church in Nice.

What does his story say to you?