Walking Among the Homeless
On my walk to work Monday morning I came alongside a homeless man dragging himself up the sidewalk using only his hands. His socks were shredded to strips. His exposed feet looked weathered and pained. All of his clothing was dirty and threadbare. He had a wool blanket draped across one shoulder. I leaned down to ask if I could help in any way. He said no.
As I walked a couple steps forward, I started to cry. The businessman walking next to me asked if I was okay. I said, “No. I am not okay living in a city or country where we find it acceptable to allow people to barely survive.”
We walked back to the man together asking one last time if we could help. Again, he said no. Then he searched for a match to light his cigarette. We suggested getting him a lighter or anything else from the nearby corner store. He said water would be useful. I headed across the street for water and a lighter.
I sat down on the sidewalk, placed my hand on his shoulder, and told him how sorry I was for our community’s inability to help him. I told him that I was sorry he didn’t have a place to live. I told him I was sorry for the way our city was treating him. During my apology he never made eye contact. He only looked up when I asked if I could help in any other way. He again replied with a no.
The businessman tried to hand the homeless man several dollar bills but he refused.
Imagine that, no cash taken. This seemed very symbolic to me — at this moment and time in history, when money seems to be the ultimate goal — this man seemingly so much in need refused to accept cash.
I am not sure when we, as a society, decided to dip this low in our consent of allowing other humans to live this way. I thought it used to be different. But I have to ask myself, “Have we not always practiced this sort of independence in this country? When have we ever taken care of those less fortunate than us?” I know the illusion of caring and safety nets seemed to be there in my youth…
Carly’s dear friend Sister Barbara recently noted that most people’s hearts can’t shelter the immense pain of consciousness. That makes my own heart ache deeply. I can’t close my eyes to injustice in our world. It boggles my mind that others work so vehemently to avert their own eyes. What is the purpose of being so blind? I don’t understand.
As we walked away from the man unable to move off the sidewalk on Monday, our conversation shifted from what it had been. We wondered together about how it is possible to live in the city with two of the richest, money-addicted men in the world and still pass people scraping themselves up the sidewalk. My colleague spoke of his own homeless brother. We ended our conversation musing about the roles that addiction to money, the capitalist system, and greed have all played in this one man’s plight.
When will we hit the bottom of our consent to homelessness? When will we hit bottom concerning weapons and police killings? When will we hit bottom regarding the mass killing of innocent people in our wars and through weapon sales to other countries? When will we understand that addiction is never a solution but merely a symptom?