Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What Story Would Be Written About You?

The man is slumped in his chair and he looks dead. On a crowded street corner, people and cars fly by, unfazed by the very real possibility that his man slumped in his wheelchair isn’t just high or drunk, but may very well be dead.

I know he’s not dead because when I first got to this coffee shop, I came upon another man checking on him and indeed the man was roused awake. But time and again, I have watched as the masses pass by. Worse yet, a number of people walk by, turn around and stare, but then decide to move on. But hope abounds, because I have watched time and again how when one person stops and tries to engage the man and make sure he is alive, several others stop, and ask what they can do to help.  There is discomfort, uncertainty, and confusion, but above all else there is a certain level of compassion and shared responsibility. And so from a privileged place I watch the best and worst of humanity struggle to deal with a problem that goes beyond one man in a wheelchair.

I must confess of all the social issues I care about, homelessness is one of the most vexing. It’s hard to find the kind of "light at the end of the tunnel" hope you encounter in something like education. No, with the homeless, the weight of the charity we offer indeed weighs heavily upon our shoulders as we are asked to work on a cause and with people where the hope we want to believe in seems to have faded long ago. 

We’re a results oriented culture, but I really believe sometimes we're tasked to just show up and acknowledge in the other the shared humanity and dignity they themselves might not believe they possess. Our task, however daunting it may be, is to somehow make the socially irrelevant realize how relevant they really are.

As I was finishing this post, a man leaving Starbucks approached the homeless man. After he saw he wasn’t dead though, he did something different. He stayed, and listened patiently for about 5 minutes as the man spoke to him. And the man just listened. Then he smiled, handed him a cigarette, split his breakfast sandwich in half, and then got behind the wheelchair, sharing a laugh with the man as he helped, literally and figuratively, move the man a little closer to where he probably really wants to be. He never noticed me, or anyone else whose eyes were fixated on the touching scene unfolding on a gritty and busy street corner. He did what was right most likely because his heart told him to do as much.

Some would say the odds are against us in this world. Now 7 billion people strong, there’s simply too many people, too many problems, to pay each one the proper attention deserved. Well, perhaps it’s true, but I’ll be damned if I don’t count myself among those who still try anyhow. How about you? What story is someone writing about you when you least suspect it?

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