Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

Have you ever met Paul Bussell? I hadn’t. I had never even heard of him. Till Thanksgiving 2012.

in 2009 I moved from the Netherlands to Austin. I had never celebrated Thanksgiving and wanted to start a tradition. I bought a vegan turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. I was excited about sharing appreciation and a meal with my husband. He wasn’t. He fasts. That’s his tradition.

I decide to find someone else to share my meal with. Maybe a homeless person. Stuart! I’m always happy to see him, I enjoy our conversations and his big smile. This is the perfect opportunity to celebrate our unfolding friendship.

I spend 30 minutes driving around. No trace of Stuart. No trace of anyone else on the street, either. I give up.

On my way home, I see a homeless man pushing a shopping cart! I push down my brakes, run up to him and ask him if he wants to share my pumpkin pie. He looks at me, unperturbed by my offer. “No, thanks. I just ate.” He points at two Styrofoam boxes in his cart. “It’s amazing how much food people throw away. I’ll eat it in the morning. I first need to drink. Do you have beer?” I shake my head. “Do you want tea?” He doesn’t want tea. “Do you have a dollar, so I can buy some beer?” I’m in doubt, I don’t like to sponsor addiction.

He is willing to sit with me on the curb, while I eat my pie. Two minutes after we settle in, another car stops by. A girl jumps out, pushes a cup of orange juice and a food tray in his hand, and yells “Happy Thanksgiving!” as she runs back to her car. He puts the food in his cart. He gives me the juice. “I don’t drink that.”

He starts talking. About his imprisonment for stealing some Frankfurters, some buns, and five cans of beers. About living outside walls. About his ex-wives, who wanted him to give up drinking. About his blood. How he is O-negative and has a protein percentage that’s only found in 12% of the people. He tells about his family, his sister, the suicides of relatives. He tells about a French friend who used to bring him food. “I said ‘motherfucker’ in Spanish. I didn’t expect her to understand. But she did. She never wanted to see me again. I was angry, you know. Not at her. Just angry.” His favorite quote is from W.C. Fields “A man who loves whiskey, and hates kids, can’t be all that bad.”

After 45 minutes he wants to leave. He doesn’t trust the guy walking up and down the street, watching us. Paul doesn’t want me to get mugged. I give him $5. For beer. I wait till I see him walk into the petrol station shop. I’ve never seen him again. Will you say ‘hi’ if you do? He has the brightest blue eyes you can imagine.

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