Earlier today I received a telephone call from a couple who I’ve known for quite a number of years. It’s been 6 or 7 months since we’ve actually "talked." Most of the time we’re sending emails back and forth. So, it was good to hear their voices.
Just before we hung up they told me to keep an eye on my email inbox because they were going to be sending me digital photographs of their upcoming vacation to Northern California, through Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoias National Parks (which by the way, are absolutely beautiful).
When I asked which route they were going to take they mentioned that they had originally intended to take one of the main roads up then wind their way back down. But, they had decided that they were going to take some of the "back roads" going and coming.
Am I jealous? You bet I am.
No… not really. Although I have to admit that it’s been years since I’ve had a vacation. And it will probably be several more years before I get a chance to have one. But, then again, with the price of gasoline these days, I’m betting that there aren’t that many people who will be traveling long distances. More’s the pity.
I’ve had the good fortune to have visited so many different places in throughout the nation and the vistas that can be found are so breath taking that they are beyond my ability to describe. The incredible diversity of colors, hues, textures, smells and sounds that this country offers is so astounding that anyone who isn’t moved by its beauty must have a heart of stone.
One of the secrets to finding some of that beauty is the willingness to get off the beaten path and – like my friends – take the back roads. It’s amazing what you may find, if only you’re willing to see past and beyond the "same old thing." My friends are in for such a wonderful time that I can hardly wait to see the photos.
And of course, because of the peculiar way my particular brain works, the idea that my friends were going to take the path less traveled started a chain of thoughts about how we often times perceive the homeless.
I’ll admit that prior to having had experienced homelessness myself, there were times when I – like so many other persons – never thought about what goes on "behind the scenes" in the life of someone who doesn’t have a place to live. For some reason, it never occurred to me that I might have something in common with a homeless person. Or, that homeless support services organizations weren’t able to provide the homeless with more than the absolute basic of services – which more times than not are minimal.
It isn’t that I thought myself better than the homeless. I had enough compassion within me to offer them a few dollars when I could afford it, or I’d offer to buy them something to eat. It didn’t even bother me that some of them might buy something to drink with the money I’d give. After all, a gift is a gift and there should be no conditions imposed on it – otherwise it’s not a gift, it’s bargaining tool.
Still, with all of that I seldom took the time to "get to know" the person. My interaction with the homeless was basically superficial. I would do my good deed and then be on my way. And now, looking at it in retrospect, I can see how I not only belittled those individuals, but in the process I cheated myself by not having the willingness to "take the back roads."
I’m certain that those monetary gifts I’d given were appreciated. But the greater gift would have been to also take a few minutes to truly interact with those persons; to give them a sense of personal worth; some acknowledgment that regardless of their current situation they were a part of the family of man. That, more than anything else, would have been a gift of genuine value.
I’m not saying that we need to take time to talk to every homeless person we happen to encounter. That would certainly be an unrealistic expectation. Nor would it be practical. But think about how often we just rush past the person without really having to.
What would be the loss if we stopped and interacted for a few minutes? What? It might take us 5 minutes longer to get out of the supermarket? Or – heaven forbid – we’d be late for our morning cup of Starbucks?
Several weeks ago, a friend of mine who is a dog lover (being the proud human of two mischievous dachshunds) shared with me a chance encounter she had with a gentleman who turned out to be homeless. What had caught her attention about this gentleman was his well groomed and cared for dog: a collie.
Because of her love for animals, she struck up a conversation with this gentleman. He explained to her how he had found the dog wandering in the country and had taken the dog and cared for it. What had moved her about this gentleman was his ability to have shown compassion for another living creature despite his personal circumstances; and how he had considered himself blessed to have someone to care for (his dog) and someone who cared for him.
When she finished sharing the story of her encounter with this gentleman she remarked,
"…proof positive to me that we all have far more things in common than the divisions that some like to create."
Something tells me that she’s glad she was willing to take a path less traveled that day, instead of sticking to the "main roads."