The Best Reward

Posted: February 16, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Housing, Morality, Religion

I’ve been meeting a lot of people lately. Some homeless. Some not homeless. Some who are "couch homeless."

Today, I met a young woman, in her mid to late twenties, who falls into the "couch homeless" category. Nice person. Reasonably intelligent. And like everyone else, just trying to survive as well as she can despite an economy that seems to be going south.  

I don’t recall how the conversation began, but at some point we started talking about the local area homeless. I wasn’t the one who brought up the topic of homelessness. She did. It was at that point that it came out that she was staying with friends. She had been staying with them for about 3 months now. Although it didn’t seem that there was a time limit on how long she could stay, I could sense from her demeanor that she felt a bit uncomfortable about being there for this long. Sort of as if she were being an imposition.

When I began to share with her the many struggles that I’ve had to endure as a result of homelessness, she listened with great intent. Although I was trying to "downplay" the experiences, the questions that she asked made it difficult to do so. At one point, where I was recounting one of the experiences I’d had, I could see her eyes begin to water and she said, "I’m sorry."

When I asked why she was sorry, she said,

"I’m sorry that you had to go through something like that. Nobody should have to be treated that way. How can people be so cruel to somebody else?"

I shrugged my shoulders and said,

"People are people. Some are mean. But, you know what? Some of them are really nice, too."

At one point she mentioned that I didn’t seem to have become bitter as a result of the experience. That I could still be hopeful despite everything I’ve endured as a result of homelessness amazed her.

When it came time for her to go her way, she said something that touched my heart,

"I’m so glad that I decided to talk to you. I feel really blessed to have met you."

Later in the afternoon, while I at a fast food restaurant to get something to eat, I overheard a 50 something year old couple in the line ahead of me talking. The woman was telling her husband that she had thought the pastor’s sermon was really good this morning. Which seemed odd to me because of it being Saturday. But then I remembered that there are certain denominations that do worship on Saturday’s. She was saying how inspiring it was. Several moments later, she was pointing out a homeless man to her husband. I could hear the contempt in her voice.

I turned to look at the homeless gentleman. He was sitting at one of the tables eating an order of fries. There was nothing else on the table except a glass of water. I could feel a sorrow begin welling up inside of me.

I finally reached the counter and placed my order. When I stepped away to let the person behind me place their order, I found myself standing about 3 feet from the couple who had been in line in front of me. The woman was still "complaining" to her husband about the homeless gentleman.

They picked up their order and went to sit down.

When I picked up my order, I walked over to where the homeless man was still seated. I handed the him the food that I had ordered for him. He looked at me with complete surprise. Before he could say anything, I dug into my pocket and handed him a few dollars and said, "I know what it’s like."

With that I headed toward the doors. Just before I exited the restaurant, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the couple who had been in the line in front of me. The woman was glaring at me.

For a moment I was tempted to turn and look her straight in the face, daring her to say something. I didn’t because of a small clear voice inside of me. They were the words I had spoken to the young woman several hours earlier,

"People are people."

Outside of the restaurant, the breeze felt good.

I felt sorry for the couple. Despite having been to church, their attitude toward the homeless gentleman was preventing them from feeling blessed.

As I went my way I realized that I had a smile on my face. I had somehow been able to be a blessing to two people today. That’s its own best reward.

  1. AnAmerican says:

    Yes indeed,people are people. It takes all types to fill this world of ours. While I have always valued diversity I think we could use a few more folks like yourself in this world who act out of compassion and know about the true gift of charity to others in need. Pay it forward!

  2. A Grandmother says:

    I agree with AnAmerican. We need a lot more people like you, and a lot less judgement from folks who feel somehow superior to others. The truly blessed were the recipients of your kindness and your wisdom.

  3. michael says:

    AnAmerican and A Grandmother,

    Thank you for your kind words. But as I pointed out – people are people. I’m just a “people” who, like yourselves, is just trying to do the best they can.

    Although, because of my experience with homelessness, I have been exposed to the worst that human kind has to offer, I have also been blessed by having been shown the best that humanity has to offer.

    That has been what has helped to sustain me when it seemed that I didn’t have to strength to continue.

    – m –

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