Mornings. I love the warm feeling of waking up snuggled in the blankets of my bed. My comfy slippers coddle my feet. My soft flannel pajamas hug my body reminding me of the hug my wife gave me last night before we fell asleep. Rapt in such contentment it’s easy to forget how fortunate I am to have any one of these comforts of home.
Last week I listened to a compelling talk given by a seminarian named Brian Zumbrum, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales. He spoke about a program called The Urban Plunge that he had participated in as a college student. He and a fellow student lived on the streets as homeless people for forty-eight hours. They were sent out into Washington DC with nothing more than their ID, a quarter, and instructions to meet their homeless guides at a location for which they were given no directions or map. It took Brian hours to beg enough money for a Metro ticket to get to his location. During that time he saw the best and worst of humanity as he was ignored by most, pitied by some, and ridiculed by a cruel, unfeeling few. He was reduced to stealing discarded pizza crusts of a table at a mall as he watched shoppers dump full trays of unwanted food in the trash.
When he met his guide, his eyes were opened even more to the life of the homeless as he saw the effects of untreated broken bones, listened to a homeless mother tell stories about the son she had to give up to foster care, and slept on the cold October pavement a block away from the White House. (This is the safest place to sleep as the area is patrolled by the Secret Service but the homeless are chased away every morning so as not to disturb the the patriotic euphoria of the tourists.)
I listened to Brian’s talk in humble guilt. I would have been among the many who ignored his silent plea for help on the sidewalk bench with a cup in his hand. “Don’t give them money!” so many of us are taught. “They just use it to buy drugs!” The truth that Brian discovered is that while some homeless people are drug addicts, and some are mentally ill, most of them use the money they collect on the streets to buy the most basic commodity that so many of us take for granted– food. He asked his homeless guide if giving money on the streets was a wise thing to do. His guide, whose name was Bo, said “Hey buddy, don’t block your blessings!” One can’t tell whether the unkempt person outside the 7-11 asking for spare change is a druggie looking for a fix, a con man making extra cash, or a hungry person hoping to buy a 99-cent burger. The blessing you receive for helping one of God’s children in need is worth the risk that the money will be ill spent. All you will have lost is, perhaps, a dollar. The person you helped may have gained another day of survival.
“Food” for thought.