When I was a kid I clearly remember sleeping over at a friends house for his 8th birthday party. When I arrived, he asked me if I had ever seen the movie “Nightmare on Elm Street”, to which I replied I had not. We proceeded to watch not one, not two, but three horror movies that night! By the time bedtime came around I had worked myself into an internal frenzy, terrified by all of my unfamiliar surroundings. I had been given the top bunk, which of course was a privilege, and the lights went out and we went to sleep…well, not exactly. I, of course, was not able to sleep. I saw movement in every corner. I pictured monsters in the closest, under the bed and assumed the worst had already happened to my friend below. The worst part was there was a big, old tree in the front that swayed in the wind all night long, casting shadows and much doubt into the room where I lay. There was only one thing I could do…close my eyes! The tighter the better. Because we all know as children that when we close our eyes whatever it is that is bothering you will simply go away!!
As I have grown into an adult, I have come to realize the flaw in this logic. It is not only ineffective to close your eyes as a means of self-defense; it’s flat out dangerous! If I’m crossing the street and I see a truck coming I don’t close my eyes and hope it goes away, I hurry up and get out of the way. So my questions is this, if we as adults have learned that shutting our eyes tightly does not make a problem go away, why do we do it when we see the homeless on the streets?
This morning while waiting to be picked up at the subway, I saw a man begging for some change. I didn’t have any since I had just used it for the bus and I didn’t have my wallet with me either. So when he asked me I apologized and explained my situation to which he said, “no problem, have a nice day”. Since my ride was not there yet I decided to spark up a conversation with him when people weren’t walking by as to not hinder his work. He explained to me that he had a bit of good luck yesterday because a man bought him a coffee, which had supplied him with the tools necessary to go to work on this day. I looked in his cup and noticed it was entirely empty. I felt even worse for having nothing to give.
I watched as person after person walked by, 10, 20, 50, and not one, not even one of them would even look at the man!! In fact, they would visibly look away or look down at their shoes. They had reverted to their childhood instincts; if I look away the problem won’t be there! The only problem was he was still there. This man with an empty cup looking for a meal.
We concluded our conversation as he told me he would be looking for knew, hotter grounds to work, and my mind began to ponder what I had just experienced. Here I was with nothing to give and here he was and no one cared. How I wished I had brought my wallet or even that he were the same shoe size as myself so we could trade. But then it dawned on me that these encounters happen all the time. Often we are asked if we have change to give and the honest answer is no we don’t, but that does not mean that we have nothing to give. So my hope is that in reading this you will never think that you have nothing to give the next time you see someone who needs something from you. The first thing you can give is time. How precious we have made this commodity that we simply cannot spare a second of it. It takes very little time for you to look up from your phone, your paper, or even your feet to look at the individual, acknowledge them as one of God’s creations, and explain that you do not have any change at that time. It has to be extremely difficult to not be recognized as something of value by the masses. Giving seconds of your time is at least a start in changing our city. The second thing you can give is respect. Whether we speak it aloud or not, the common perception is that we are somehow better than the homeless. We believe we have somehow pulled up our bootstraps and arrived here on our own strength. All of this is far from the truth. Now that you have given your time, give your respect. You may just be surprised as to what you can learn and how it will better your day in ways you did not expect. The third thing that you will always carry and be free to give is love. Love them as God has loved you! Treat them as a friend, speak kind words and look them in the face. Because when you look them in the face, you just might be surprised to see whose face you are actually looking into (Matthew 25:31-46).