|DEREK WAUTLET - Could easily be mistaken for an angel in disguise.|
THE EYES OF AN ANGEL
He looks straight at you, constantly and intently. If there were not so much kindness in his eyes, the intense way that he looks at you might be unsettling. But because of the kindness, the way that he looks at you is not unsettling. In fact, it’s sort of comforting.
When a more imaginative person met Derek for the first time, that person might find himself wondering whether Derek is some sort of angel in disguise.
Derek is twenty-eight years old. He is still a young man. But his extraordinary height, combined with the steadiness of his voice make him seem, at times, as if he is much older.
In 2009, Derek was working for a local restaurant called Joe Carribe.
He suffered a back injury, and could no longer work.
He was on worker’s compensation for a while. But it didn’t pay him enough to pay his rent. So, he lost his apartment, and became homeless.
Derek will tell you that his path to becoming homeless has been very special. To him, it has been a path of spiritual growth.
He grew up here in Auburn, in a Catholic family. He went to St. Joseph’s.
As he got older, he did a lot of spiritual study, and studied many different forms of religious beliefs. Eventually, he converted to Mormonism, and joined the LDS church.
Now, Derek is convinced that being homeless, here in Auburn, is exactly where God wants Derek to be.
"The Lord wants me to be here," Derek says. "Working with the homeless, and helping them.
"Materialism doesn’t work out for me. When I tried materialism, the only message I got was, ‘Go back to church.’ I went to church last Sunday.
"I don’t feel a very strong connection to the people in my local church. But I do feel some.
"I’ve been kind of living a double life. But I must choose one path or the other. I choose this path - to live out here, and to help the homeless people I meet. This is like a Mormon mission for me.
"I asked about going on a regular Mormon mission. But I was told that I would have to be a regular member of the church for at least a year before I could go on a mission. I couldn’t wait that long.
"I know how to help homeless people because I’ve been homeless myself.
"Being homeless is sort of like falling into a vortex. Once you get sucked in, it’s really hard to leave.
"Some homeless people think that all of the cards are stacked against them, and that they will never get out.
"I’m here to tell them that it’s not that way. I’m here to tell them that they can find a way out, if they really want.
"While I was studying all of those different forms of religious beliefs, I encountered a lot of obstacles to my faith.
"But as soon as I was baptized, my faith became a snap. I just stopped worrying about it.
"Now, every day, when I first get up in the morning, I say a little prayer and ask, ‘Lord, what have you got for me today?’
What is the hardest part about being homeless for Derek?
"The judgment that comes along with being homeless... the judgment that comes from people who are not homeless.
"If you look like a homeless person, then other people pull away from you.
"Why would people want to pull away from me? Back when I was in college, in Oregon, I was Phi Beta Kappa.
"But when you’re homeless, you can’t get a shower as often as you would like. And then, you get dirt under your fingernails. And your clothing gets a little worn. And all of that sort of accumulates to make you look more and more like a homeless person.
"You shouldn’t be judged on these things. You shouldn’t be judged by the way that you look. You should be judged on your heart, and by what you do.
"Actually, you shouldn’t really be judged at all.
"There’s a sort of irony, in this Country, with regard to the way that we treat our criminals, and the way that we treat our non-criminal homeless people. Today, it’s cold and raining outside. Those who have been convicted of crimes are over at the jail, where they have shelter from the rain, and a warm, dry bed, and they get fed regular meals. But the non-criminal homeless people are left out in the cold rain to starve.
"This happens because the Country is capitalist. There’s money to be made in criminals. But there’s no money to be made with the homeless."
If Derek had a magic wand, so that he could be or do anything, what would he be doing?
"I’d be helping the homeless."
Does Derek have a message for the world?
"Yes. The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
"Never discount anybody.
"I’ve had some of the greatest spiritual lessons ever from homeless people. Sometimes, I meet another homeless person that you’d never expect to be a messenger through whom God, or Jesus, is trying to talk to you. But that is what happens.
"Also, I know what it’s like to starve. I’ve gone for days without eating.
"Now, I can’t stand to see others go hungry.
"The heart is the mercy seat of the Lord.
"Love without condition.
"I think there is a new paradigm coming. I think that we are finally waking up. We can’t keep stepping on our brothers and our sisters."
I ask Derek what he believes is special and unique about him. As I ask him this, I can’t help thinking about his piercing blue eyes. He is still looking right at me... right into my own eyes, and perhaps, right into my soul.
Derek says, "It’s hard for me to answer that question. It makes me feel like I’m being prideful.
"I care about everyone," he says. "I want to help them."
"You will help them," I tell him. "You will be a great help to a lot of homeless people, because when you talk to them, you will look right at them, and you will really see them.
"This is a great gift that you can give to them.
"Because, as you know, most people are afraid of homeless people, and won’t even look at them. Homeless people become so accustomed to not being seen by others that, after a while, they begin to feel as if they are invisible.
"It’s almost as if they have ceased to exist.
"But when you look at them, you will really see them. They will know that they still exist, and that their lives still matter."
Derek keeps looking right at me as I tell him this. But to my surprise, large tears come out of his eyes, and roll down his cheeks.
He doesn’t say anything.
But in this silence, his face reveals the most profound expression of compassion I have ever seen.
This remarkably tall man could easily be mistaken for being an angel in disguise.
Unless, of course, it is no mistake.
This is the one hundred and first article in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by Bob Litchfield.