I stopped into an Internet cafe for a cup of hot chocolate today.
Because the weather was pleasant I sat at one of the outdoor tables in the small patio area. There were also a few other people sitting out there as well enjoying their beverages. But there were a few other guests on the patio who weren’t "paying customers" – four small birds.
I sat watching these remarkable creatures as they moved about, picking at the crumbs that had fallen from the various pastries. Although these types of birds are quite common in our area, this was the first time I noticed that they don’t really walk. They hop. That intrigued me so I began watching them all the more intently.
I noticed that on every occasion, before they actually bent over to pick up their "food," their small heads would dart back and forth, as though they were on the look out for danger. The slightest movement, other than from the other birds, would startle them and they’d half hop and half fly to another part of the patio. Then when things seemed to have settled down they’d head right back to where the food was.
As they moved around the ground eating, with their wings tucked nicely back against their bodies, it seemed to me that their movements were somewhat awkward. Then a giant "Duh!" went off inside my head. These wonderful creatures weren’t really meant to be walking about on the ground. They were meant to soar through the sky.
Almost as if to confirm that sudden understanding, the four of them leapt up and flew away. As I watched them head off to who knows where, I was amazed at how incredibly graceful they were now that they were in their element.
By the time I finished my hot chocolate, I realized that I didn’t even know what species of bird they were. That bothered me, so I tried reaching into my mind to see if I could make an educated guess as to what they might be. The only two names I could come up with were Sparrow and Wren – then my mind went blank. I figured that they were probably Sparrows because, well… I don’t know why. But it was as good a guess as any.
As I left the Internet cafe I was determined that I was going to find out what species of bird they were. After all, they are kind enough to share this planet with me, so it seems to me that I at least ought to have enough respect for them to know what they are – or at least what name we human beings have given them.
The one thing that kept coming back to my mind was how – as I said before – their movements while on the ground seemed awkward but once they were in flight, every one of their movements were filled with grace and beauty. It actually seemed to me as though they were having fun; enjoying themselves. And why not? In flight, they had risen above the limitations of being on the ground.
And that started me wondering.
Often times, we see a person who is homeless and we never stop to think about who they are, why they’re homeless, or what they may have the potential to become if they had the opportunity to spread their wings and rise above the limitations of homelessness.
We see them walking about, with their backs bent over from the weight of their backpacks. We see them struggling with their trash bags full of recyclables, headed to the recycling centers. We see them standing on a corner holding a cardboard sign asking for help. But we seldom see them as having a potential to become more than their appearances; more than the "sum of their parts."
We expect them to take responsibility for themselves; to put forth an effort to make something of their lives. And we should. We should expect the homeless to aspire to become productive, self-sustaining members of the community. But, we must also be willing to lend a helping hand. We must be willing to intervene in their lives.
It isn’t about handing them everything on the proverbial silver platter. Rather, it’s about providing them with the opportunities they need in order to rise above homelessness. And that takes so much more than just directing them to the local homeless shelter for a meal and a bed.
When it comes to our method of helping the homeless, it shouldn’t be a "sink or swim" mind set we adhere to. We have to be willing to not only throw them a lifeline, we must also be willing to draw that lifeline in and help them get into the boat.
A bird that cannot fly is unable to be what they were meant to be. They are unable to express the grace and beauty that is a part of their nature.
A homeless person, who isn’t afforded a genuine opportunity by their community to reclaim their lives, is a bird whose wings have been clipped.
When we treat the homeless with disdain and indifference; when we turn our backs to their sufferings; when we turn a deaf ear to the cries for help, we’ve deprived them of the freedom to soar.