As the two business travelers passed by the slimy, disgusting, reeking mass before them raising out his change can, one of them barked out, "Get a job you bum!". The other didn't say anything as he was too uncomfortable to utter a sound, but in his mind, he had the same sentiments, perhaps worse. He thought that the street people that he had encountered in his travels, from Washington D.C., to Rio De Janeiro, to Chicago, to his own hometown, were just lazy bums who found it easier to beg for handouts than to commit to a job and actually earn a living. These "people" weren't human, they were more like, like diseased animals, like litter that needed to be disposed of.
I know all too well the thoughts and feelings of that second, non-verbal traveller, as you see, I am him. Perhaps, better stated, I was him a very long time ago. In that long ago time, I knew nothing about mental illness. Nothing about drug or alcohol or gambling addictions. I knew nothing about true despair. And now, several decades past that encounter, I can only say that I have only had the faintest taste of any of these. By the grace of God, my cup of plenty and provision overflows. However, I have gone through a kind of rigorous sensitivity training that only making our way through life can provide. Hurts and personal demons and struggles can serve to indicate what links all of us together in the human condition.
Today, while I still harbor some degree of hurtful and negative attitudes toward street people, I understand so much more than I ever have. I pray for those I see, I wonder about where they will sleep and how they will find food to survive. I worry how they can start to get their lives back together. Of course, thinking is easy. It is detached and I don't have to look anyone in the eyes or face any real pain. As a first step, I have given to the local food pantry on several occasions. Still, I can avoid any hard work and stay clean and emotionally and physically clear. Perhaps one day, soon, my faith and my convictions will move me from the training grounds to the real world. It is time that I stand up and serve. I need to do this, not for myself and my further education, but because it is the right thing to do.
(Part 1 of 3)