I asked the woman sitting next to me where she was from, and she said, “San Diego. I used to love it, but not anymore.” I asked, “Why’s that?” She softly said, “The homeless.”
On a quick trip to Portland, I noticed groups of colored tents inside tree groves along the highway. In Arizona, a mile from our house, there is a young man nearly always sitting with his sign and holding a small short-haired dog. Close by are blankets, grocery carts, and trash near the ditch and next to a bridge. I assume it is where the young man and others sleep and wake up—their temporary home.
A movie, “Stone Pillow,” helped me understand the plight of the homeless. It starred Lucille Ball. She was a homeless woman in the city. She was proud to be self-sufficient, had a daily routine for hygiene and eating, a circle of friends, and a doorway she called home. She knew to sleep on cardboard for warmth, how to keep her shoes dry, and what restaurants threw away the best scraps of food. I required my students to watch the movie.
I’ve heard people say, “Why don’t they get a job?” “They look capable to me!” “They probably have more money than I do!” “No, I don’t give money, they just spend it on drugs or alcohol!” “Why are they allowed to be in front of the stores?” “He probably has a phone and color TV.” “How can he can afford a dog?”
I would guess most everyone reading this article has a home. I do. Because of that, how do we know what the homeless endure? We can pity them or feel sorry, sympathize and feel sad, or even have empathy which is truly knowing and caring. Thank goodness, most of us have no idea what it is to be hungry, cold, dependent, scared, judged, hopeless, helpless, financially and emotionally broke, plus embarrassed—all at the same time and most of the time.
They probably didn’t answer, “Homeless” when 18 and asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Compassion is wanting to help—give five-dollars, food coupons, a winter coat, or donate and volunteer at food kitchens. Compassion is more than just doing the right thing; that is altruism. Compassion is feeling in the pit of your stomach, the desire to ease the pain, and then doing whatever to help.
Whether we decide to activate our pity, sympathy, empathy, or compassion, let us be kind and not judgmental or critical. We don’t know the story behind men, women, and kids holding signs on streets. We haven’t met their families or seen their childhood homes on Christmas morning.
We do know the homeless have beating hearts. I know most of us would not stand on a corner with a sign unless we lived in dire poverty lacking basic needs. I also know many Americans are a paycheck or two removed from the reality of homelessness.
Think kindly and practice compassion. Thank you.
Until the next time: Live while you live.
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