Many years ago when my children were little they were greatly distressed to see someone who lived on the street. They would pester me that we had to “do something” and they were more than willing to give up their own comfort and pleasure to help someone out. It happened when we went to Disneyland and the streets were filled with families begging for money for food. My oldest son no longer wanted to go to Disneyland because he felt it was ridiculous that we were spending our money on fun when other people did not have food. It was hard to have to try and explain to their innocent hearts and minds how people could end up living on the streets without food or shelter.
I wonder if children ask those same questions today. I wonder if their parents are as uncomfortable with the the issue as I was. I had no answers that sounded reasonable enough to repeat to my children. I felt shame that while I was pretty sure the situation was not my fault, I really had not done a whole lot to fix it. Have we just become used to seeing homeless people? Do we now just accept that they are there, like garbage that we step over and leave for someone else to “pick up?”
I read today how a man in Hawaii was taking his sledge hammer to homeless people’s carts because he was sick of seeing the streets littered with them. I remembered a group of women who worked in the same office I did complaining about the homeless people peeing in the garbage can. I remember wondering where they would like them to go to the bathroom being as we locked up all the public washrooms against them. I wondered what it must be like to be considered so insignificant that you were denied the basic human need to relieve yourself with any dignity. It still makes me incredibly uncomfortable because I have no easy answers. I cannot feed everyone and if I tried I would end up having to join them on the streets. I wonder at a society that deals with its compassion for others by becoming harder and more blind.
Is the issue the homeless or is it our inability/unwillingness to see them?
What if their lives are an invitation to all of us to find our compassion? To choose a kinder more giving way? What if they sacrificed their happiness for the sake of the most important lesson we are all intended to learn? Compassion has been proven to be the strongest of human emotions. It is the most healing to the human body. Perhaps it is the intended balm to save mankind. Are we too blind to see?
I do not step over people on the street.
I offer them at least a smile, sometimes a word, and when I have it … some food, some money. I want them to know I see them. I want them to know they are still human beings even if it is for only a brief second.