Tuesday, December 11, 2012

ROLAND HERNANDEZ - "I know these things from personal experience."
"I have a bit of trouble managing my anger...."

     It’s humbling and awe-inspiring, during those rare moments when you catch the signs that God’s hand is guiding your daily life. I am only able to see those signs once in awhile. I wish that I was more awake, and that I had stronger faith. Because I believe that God’s hand is guiding my daily life all the time.      It’s just that much of the time, I’m not awake enough to realize it.
     There is no question that God has a terrific sense of humor. Here is a recent example:
     I’ve been angry, on and off, for two or three weeks. I’ve been angry about some things that happened in one of the service clubs I belong too. I’ve also been angry about the results of the recent State and National elections. I know that most of my grievances are relatively petty. But that doesn’t keep me from being angry.
     I try to just forget about it, and let it go.
     But I am an imperfect human being.
     So, at about 3:30 on this past Saturday Morning, I woke up, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I laid there in bed, being angry.
     At 7:00 A.M., it was time for me to drive down to the Seventh Day Adventist Church to interview homeless people. But, I didn’t want to go. I hadn’t slept enough. I was tired. And I was still angry.
     But I had to go and do the interviews. Because one of my young college students was going to meet me at the church, to meet some of the homeless people, and to observe the interviews.
     I was still angry and grumpy as I drove to the church.
     I wondered how I was going to conduct interviews with love in my heart, when all I really want to do was punch somebody in the mouth.
     I arrived at the church, and walked into the breakfast room.
     My college student had not yet arrived.
     I looked for someone to interview. It’s getting tougher for me to find someone to interview now, because I already know so many of the regulars.
     I spotted a small man with glasses whom I’ve never seen before. He was seated at a table near a far corner of the room.
     I introduced myself, and told him about my homeless book project.
     He agreed to be interviewed.
     His name is Roland Hernandez. He is fifty-six years old. He has been homeless, off and on, since 2009.
     I ask Roland how he became homeless.
     "I rented a room from a guy who became verbally abusive," Roland says. "I have anger issues. I have a bit of trouble managing my anger. I’m getting a little better at managing my anger, these days. But I finally just couldn’t deal with it from this guy any longer. So, I moved out.
     "My former roommate owns a restaurant here in Auburn. He is manipulative, and belittling. He used to hide the frying pay somewhere up high, so that I couldn’t cook anything. He’d hide the can opener up high too."
     When Roland starts our conversation by telling me that he has problems managing his anger, but that he is getting better at it, and I have to laugh.
     It’s a God thing, that I bump into Roland at this particular, angry moment in my life.
     I tell Roland that it’s a God thing, and explain to him that I’ve been having trouble managing my own anger, lately.
     Since Roland says that he’s been getting better at managing his anger, I ask him if he’d be willing to share what’s been working for him.
     "Think about positive things," Roland says. "When you first get up in the morning, think about something positive that you did yesterday, or think about something positive that you’re going to do today.
     "I have to maintain a positive attitude," Roland says. "Because if I don’t, I’m the type of person who likes to hurt people. I lose control completely.
     "One time, I got into a fight with a cop. I broke the cop’s jaw, and his arm.
     "They were trying to give me twenty years in jail for that.
     "But the cops had beaten the living tar out of me. I was black and blue all over. And because of the beating that the cops gave me, they dropped all of the charges against me.
     "I grew up in the Mission District of San Francisco. I was a thug. I learned how to use my hands and my feet.
     "I’m homeless right now, because I just can’t seem to find a good roommate. Since 2009, I’ve had eight different roommates. None of them worked out.
     The roommate that I had just before this one robbed me."
     Roland is a rather short man. In the past, I’ve know several short men who had problems with their temper. So, I ask Roland if he thinks one reason he may have trouble with his temper is because he is shorter than most men, and perhaps other people tend to pick on him because he is smaller than most other men.
     "No," Roland says. "I don’t think it has anything to do with my size....
     "But, it might have something to do with the fact that I’m in a wheelchair."
     Roland points to an electric wheelchair in a nearby corner of the room.
     Up until then, I had no idea that Roland needed a wheelchair to get around.
     Roland had already transferred himself from his wheelchair to a seat at one of the breakfast tables before I came into the room.
     I look at this homeless man’s wheelchair, and suddenly, all of my own complaints and grievances about life seem really, really petty... so tiny, in fact, that they fade into insignificance.
     Thank you for the reminder about how lucky I am, Lord.
     I’m sorry that I’ve been complaining. I’m sorry that I’ve been getting angry.
     Roland tells me that before he was crippled up with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and had to have a knee replacement, he was a general contractor. He also used to build custom cars.
     I look at Roland’s electric wheelchair, and I have to ask, "Gee, Roland. You don’t have a place to live. So, you don’t have any place to plug in your wheelchair to recharge the battery. How do you manage that?"
     "Oh, sometimes, I go to Burger King and buy a cup of coffee," Roland says. "And while I’m there, they let me plug in and recharge for awhile. Other times, I go over to the Placer County Welcome Center, and recharge there."
     I ask Roland what’s the hardest part about being homeless for him.
     "Being handicapped.
     "I receive $855 a month in Social Security Disability. But that’s hardly enough to pay for rent and food.
     "Also, it’s hard to get around, because I don’t have a car, and I can’t drive. But I use the bus a lot, and I can get around pretty good on the local buses.
     If Roland had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be doing?
     "I’d get rid of the homeless. I’d provide all of them with a place to live. Especially the older guys.
     "When you’re young, it’s kind of cool to be homeless... hopping the rails, and being totally free. But once you get older, being homeless is not so cool any more."
     We talk for a moment about the pain of sleeping on the cold, hard ground when your joints are already aching from old age.
     Roland nods that he knows that feeling. "And being homeless tends to age you pretty fast," he says. "After awhile, you spend a lot of your time just wondering - where’s my next meal going to come from?"
     When I ask Roland if he has any family, he tells me that he has two brothers who live in Oakland. But he doesn’t see them because he doesn’t like the city life any more.
     Does Roland have a message for the world?
     "Just love each other.
     "Instead of hating each other. There’s so much hate in this world. I’ve seen so much of it myself. Especially down in Latin America."
     Roland tells me that his mother was from Guatemala, and his father was from El Salvador. Back in the days when Roland was a general contractor, he used to work for about six months, and save up about $20,000. Then, he’d take about six months off, and go down into Latin America and live like a rich man, until his money began to run out. Then, he’d come back to the U.S. and go back to work again.
     During his trips to Latin America, Roland saw a lot of poverty, and suffering, and hate.
     I explain to Roland that I have this philosophy that each person who is born into this world has something about him that makes him special and unique in the world. I ask Roland what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I can teach people," Roland says. "I can sit down, and talk to people. I can take over a room. I’ve been told that I have charisma.
     "I used to talk to kids in schools about staying off of drugs and alcohol.
     "The kids would come up to me and say, ‘How would you know?"
     "And I’d tell them - I know these things from personal experience. I know about having yellowed, rotten teeth, and I know about losing your teeth from abusing drugs. And I know about getting Rheumatoid Arthritis in your joints, and getting crippled up by drugs.
     "I’d start to tell kids about my life, and then I’d ask them if they wanted to end up like me.
     "I’ve actually had kids stand up in the middle of one of my talks, and admit that they were using drugs, and ask for help with getting off of drugs.
     "I was a Youth Pastor at a church, for awhile," Roland says.
     "Dealing with kids is a special thing to do," he says. "You have to have the art. You have to have the patience. If you don’t have patience, you’re not going to get through to them."

     This is the one-hundred-and-sixth in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

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