Driving toward the stoplights at the end of the road I saw her. She was standing on the center median strip in the rain with a sign in her hand. It said Homeless– Anything Will Help. She looked rough, soggy, dirty, and distrustful. Her eyes scanned the road and vehicles around her. In that brief moment as my car approached the red light I knew it was the right thing to give her a few dollars. As I stopped our eyes met and when I looked down to rummage through my wallet she knew what I was doing but waited, as if she was afraid to be disappointed should she be wrong. When she saw me begin to roll the window down as our eyes met again, she shuffled over to me and extended her hand to meet mine as I reached out. She shuffled back and the light changed and there ended the encounter.
Most folks don’t give to homeless beggars in traffic. Not a glance, not a smile, not a word of encouragement, and certainly not a dollar. I have never seen anyone extend a hand of kindness as they’ve driven by or been forced by the traffic lights to stop beside them. I behave the same way usually, averting my eyes and then going my way and forgetting about them as quickly as possible. I have heard that people drive by them and scream, ‘Get a job!’. Shameful behavior for sure from all of us, including myself for avoiding what’s uncomfortable to see.
So why did it feel right on that occasion to interact and say a kind word in the few seconds I was at the light beside her? What’s her story? Where was she born? Did she have a nice childhood and then fall on hard times as she became an adult? Or was she born to this cruel fate? Are her circumstances a product of bad choices? Was she forced into this lifestyle by circumstances beyond her control and then gave up? Was she continually beat down by people like you and me being mean or giving her disgusted looks, or simply by averting our eyes and pretending she doesn’t exist? Is she perhaps a product of all of us?
What do you think would happen if everyone who came across her gave her a greeting and a kind word, just as they would if she was a cherished friend? But they don’t. People say that the homeless just use their money for drugs and alcohol. While this may be true for some you certainly can’t place that blanket judgement on all of those folks. Think about that for a moment. Then ask yourself if you like to be categorized and then judged based on the actions of others. How does it feel?
The solution to homelessness is well beyond my ability to solve. Although most every town has shelters and places that try to help, the issue will never be resolved until it captures everyone’s concern and we all participate in finding some answers. One moment in my day– that took less than a minute– made me think quite hard about many things. Did my action and kind words give her a small lift of spirits at all? Or was it just another couple bucks from a stranger that was swiftly forgotten as she stood there in the rain waiting for the next small helping hand to reach out to her? If every single person who passes by a homeless person were to learn their name and greet them each time, what would happen? Would a sort of friendship form? Then what? If pleasantries and little bits of conversation were exchanged each time, what would happen? Would you learn about their life and who they are? Would they become more ‘human’? More like an acquaintance? Would knowing who they are and a bit about their life (health, dreams, family, etc.) make you more inclined to be kind and lend a hand?
So many questions from that one fleeting encounter. I could fill the page with so many questions that you might not find the end of it. Have you had any experiences at all with homelessness? Yourself or someone you know? What about the homeless in your town? Have you ever interacted with them or do you volunteer at shelters? Please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.