to use my card instead of the ten dollar bill in my hand at the Mickey Ds checkout. A last minute switch. I knew that the guy asking the clerk for directions so he could start walking home (at least an hour away by car) didn’t quite have that option. He was trying to get his bearings– knowing the name of the city we were in but not much more- so I pulled out a high tech map and started scrolling.
Continued– click red box at bottom of this column for the rest, including an open letter to the panhandler I passed this morning
We found the way to the nearest highway- the one that would lead to home- and I gave him the money that did not go towards two crispy ranch snack wraps.still sitting at the counter.
If I had given that ten to the man on the side of the road closer to home- the one I pass every time I pass that particular intersection, it wouldn’t have been available.
This morning, as I passed his cardboard sign saying God Bless you and caught a glimpse of hope in his eye as I approached the red light, I wondered what else I could offer. Not this time, but what else could I prepare, have on hand, be ready with and pass on with a glimmer of hope in return.
This afternoon, roughly 20 seconds or so after I turned on the radio, NPR was discussing homelessness; some major cities have tried to revamp parking meters into donation centers, but the guest was arguing that that would take away the human touch, that to create a culture that banishes human need from sight is tragic.
I must agree, but I
// I pause and sigh and wonder what a gift bag would include should I make up a handful and hand those out instead of a sad smile. If I were to write a letter to the homeless, what would I say? I know you need money but here’s a note instead. A note and maybe a can of soup.
A note about why I cannot afford to hand money to every person who asks but here’s the 211 paper with a huge list of organizations that are wanting to help you. I do not buy every fair trade item I see simply because I know it supports someone- or every business for that matter, every nonprofit.
A note saying I understand the validity of your need, but please understand mine.
A note saying I know its not fair. I should not have a car and a working credit card so that I can keep it running, but please understand that I have a right to not feel manipulated. I do not want to ignore you, but this isn’t really the time or place to chat- is it? The side of the highway, in busy traffic, is not really a good place to form a relationship and sir- I’m sorry that I don’t know you.
I can’t get to know you in the thirty seconds that I sit at this red light. Sir- I realize the importance of cash but at this very moment I’d much rather offer you hope and you’ve put me in a pretty tough place because that doesn’t seem to be what you’re looking for.
I’m sorry that I can’t understand the pain you’re in right now. I can’t- I’m sorry.
Sir, did you know that Lent is starting tomorrow?
Did you know that last year, I even told four whole people about this crazy plan of mine that didn’t pan out because I was too scared to even attempt to live your life- sir did you know that last year I wanted to fast from going home for Lent.
I’ve said for years that if anything is too important to me to give up, it’s too important to me to risk keeping. I have to be able to give something up. I’ve refused to start drinking coffee because I don’t want to need it to get up.
I can’t hold onto cash because I drop it into an offering plate or give it to your competitor two blocks down.
I wanted to give up going home- I wanted to try living your life– not panhandling per sé, but being willing to ask for help. I’d still have about a thousand legs up on you because I have my own car and a working credit card and tons of friends that would have eyed me really weird and then said of course you can sleep on my couch for a day or two- are you sure you’re ok?
Sir I admire you and I do not resent you for doing the only thing you know how.
I know that I have a network of friends because I have the resources to go where they are. I also cannot empty my wallet every time I see you standing there and sir? It’s not because I don’t care.
Please don’t assume no one cares, it’s just that a crisis attitude is really hard to maintain and even if this is your first day out there, it’s hard to remember that this is your personal crisis moment because I just passed many others with similar stories.
So we try, or at least claim to.
We volunteer, we give to the rescue missions, we debate the ethics of generosity and boundaries and we try once to go out of our way when we can and then try to fight the feelings of guilt that its never going to be enough.
I met this boy this morning and I know you did not know that when your glimmer of hope turned to disappointment
as my light turned green- I did not know that- but
sir? he had a destination.
It sounds cruel. I know and I’m sorry and I don’t completely know my purpose either, but that boy had a plan and a drive and he knew where he wanted to be and even if he had to walk for 17 hours– the amount Google’s beta walking app predicts his trip would take unless he meets kind strangers. still, he was determined to get there and because of that, I believe that he’ll be alright.
People want to come alongside and support vision and sir? Your cardboard sign does not inspire people to help.
Please don’t see this as harsh- I know you are in a rough spot, one that I have never experienced, but a sense of emergency cannot be sustained- especially if no progress is shown. I don’t believe you need my charity and it feels demeaning to offer it.
I respect you too much to believe that standing on a corner is the way to go but I know my shy sad smile doesn’t communicate that.
So what may I offer you? You wrote the sign that feels like it was designed to shame me but sir I won’t let it because I’m not ashamed of you, nor of myself. Can you read this?
Did someone love you enough as a child to sit down and read stories? Did they ignite your imagination, tell you their dreams and ask about yours or did they laugh when you spoke of dragons and princesses until the story wasn’t worth telling.
If as a child no one read to you, have you learned or just as you are sweet and humble enough to ask for my help as I drive by, did you take this letter to the first person you found and asked them to read it to you. You know there are adult literacy classes- they are waiting for you.
Their owners may pass you on their way to work but that’s because
they know that if they let every cent leak out of their pockets before the day is over- as I might ask if you do – that they won’t be able to keep the center open.
They pass you up so that they may be able to be more efficient with their generosity- more focused.
You may be angry with me right now and unsure of who to vent it out on. I’ve already passed long ago. Many red lights have come and gone. Maybe many days because you were afraid of missing the shy glance of another me.
You have a hard job- I think worse than the bills collector or the outbound calls center employee accustomed to being hung up on.
I believe I have a harder job because
sir? you do the only thing you know how to do but I have options. With greater resources come greater responsibility.
I get to see a bigger world than this eight block square, I get to hear more stories than yours and I get to figure out how to stretch what I have to the max.
& yet sir? Neither one of us is guilt-free,
neither one of us can claim complete victimization with no responsibility and neither one of us has to figure it out on our own.
It sounds lame because the good news is foolish to those who merely meander on without it, not happy with their lot but content enough to leave it be because it could be a whole lot worse.
There is a God- believe it or not there is a God. I’m not debating with you on that one, I’m not trying to get churchy, I don’t care if this ends up a forty page book. Reading stretches your mind. There is a God. Consider a child’s drawing of anything– a dragon, a hand, whatever it is and tell me that the big circle for a head and a stick for a body with another circle for what should resemble a foot or whatever it is & tell me that that picture is intentional but that you, with incredible in depth precision that cannot be replicated not to mention the brilliance of the environment you were placed in- air just the right combination of a multitude of gases so that you can breathe (through an incredibly complicated respiration system)- that you are an accident?
There is a God and
sir? He really does love you.
Again I’m sure you’ve heard that before; I hope you’ve heard that before. It’d break my heart even more than it did when you caught my eye if I knew that the time that you should have heard and the time that your neighbor should have heard and the owner of that shop and the list goes on- that instead of all of you hearing that once, I had it repeated to me again and again and again.
I have no doubt that God loves you. You may not have experienced that love because it was supposed to be replicated, manifested, displayed and shown off in all of its extravagance through us and if you haven’t seen that love played out, I really am sorry. Our parents were supposed to show us what God as a father looks like- caretaker, provider, disciplinarian. Our peers, our spiritual siblings, are supposed to join with us to make one body- whole and complete and not lacking anything.
God had a son- the exact image of Himself- and that kid wasn’t like me. He had the guts to give up comfort and try doing things without the privilege that relative wealth brings. He was rich alright, but of a different kind. This is the man who taught and told stories and healed people and had crowds pressing in from all sides asking for stuff. Asking for attention, for relief, for an easy way out. For their dead to be raised. They were asking for hope.
Resources are not the issue.
“Silver and gold I have none but what I have I give to you. Rise up and walk”
You live in a place where there is a church (building) on every corner, almost. Not every place is like that, but there is this network, especially strong here, that longs to offer you hope but we cannot do that if our only interaction is thirty seconds on the side of the road.
We don’t know where you go after this so we’ll make this thirty seconds count.
We need your experience, we need your resources, we need your ideas and knowledge and help in getting our city to look like what we’d all love to see.
Please help us in restoring this city by giving us a chance to offer hope to the people living inside of it- especially to you. God wants to adopt you, make you an heir along with his son, Jesus- the one who loved you so much that he died so you wouldn’t have to.
Please let us help in a way that doesn’t shame you or manipulate us. A productive way.
You are not alone- there is a God who can hear you right now and there are many more like me at His beck and call just waiting for you to ask what this all means. Learning from each other will make us all stronger.
Thank you for your contribution to society and please forgive me for disappointing you, at least initially.
Take me up on this offer, accept the healthy love of a benevolent God and His servants- maybe soon your siblings (adoption makes us a huge family)- and I promise that you will not be disappointed.
Can we take you out to coffee, can we share what we know, hear what you know- can we get to know you? People will continue to disappoint you, but you’ve got a pretty strong advocate and
miracles do happen.