On The Mark

Posted: March 1, 2008 in Acceptance, Compassion, Health, Homelessness, Morality, Relationships, Self Esteem

Two things that have absolutely nothing to do with one another gave me reason to pause for reflection.

The first occurred while I was showering this morning. As I lifted my right leg to wash my foot, I started to lose balance and over corrected and before I knew it – thunk! – I ended up hitting the wall with my head.

My first thought was "Ouch!" and the second was "Geez, how klutzy can I be?"  

Now I have a small lump on the left side of my head. The problem is that I sleep on my left side, so I’m wondering what it’s going to feel like when me head hits the pillow.

The second thing that occurred was more about something I saw.

About mid-afternoon, I stopped at a fast food place to get a soft drink. When I left I spotted three dogs walking – or trotting, or whatever – along together. None of the three were pedigree. I couldn’t even begin to guess what mixes they were. It doesn’t really matter. They were happy with each other’s company.

The smallest of the three was a short hair and had a "kink" in its tail – almost as though its tail had been caught in a door. The other two had longer hair and looked a bit scruffy. Who knows how long it had been since any of them had had a bath. Regardless, they looked like they were off on some mischievous mission. And they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

One of them stopped to take a sniff at something or other. When the other two realized that the third wasn’t with them they stopped, turned around and waited for number three. After he (or she) caught up with them, they all continued on their journey.

What gave me pause to think was that all three looked completely different from the other two. Different colorings. Different sizes. More like as not, different temperaments. Yet, they had managed to share a friendship – or at least some type of fellowship.

Although I’m sure that dogs can recognize one another by sight, they rely more on their sense of smell. This is probably pretty good – especially if they belong to a "human" family. It must seem odd to them that the "human" members of their pack have "coats" that change day after day and in some instances, more than one a day. This being the case, it means that they love us for who we are instead of what we look like.

I know that it’s been said that clothes make the man. While that may be true – at least on the surface, it’s seems to me that it’s the inner character of a person that makes them who they are. That’s the part of us which is of value – especially since our furs… er, clothes – aren’t actually a real part of us.

Yet, we often times forget that exterior appearances aren’t a true means to knowing what "kind" of person someone is. The only way to really get to know someone for who they are is to take the time to talk with them. It takes more than a "hello."

I’ve been extremely fortunate. There were countless times during my experience with homelessness that any given number of people from within our community took the time to speak with me; took the time to find out about Michael. They somehow managed to see past the homeless exterior and find the person beneath. There are good number of those persons who I keep in contact with. They e-mail me; call me; or if we happen to run into one another someplace, they are genuinely happy to see me.

But none of that would have been possible if they hadn’t been willing to invest the time to get to know me. And really, that’s what it is: an investment. They invested of their compassion, kindness, generosity and their humanity. In doing so, they allowed me the freedom to be a just a person – not a "homeless person."

With as much of a battering the self-esteem of a person who is homeless takes, it was those times when others gave me the gift of their time that were healing moments. What’s more, these encounters seemed to always come right in the nick of time; when I felt the lowest and the most emotionally weary. While those times didn’t make life picture perfect, they certainly made it easier to cope with the experience.

I don’t know what motivates any one person to show kindness to someone else who is in a situation that is less fortunate than their own. It would be easy to say that compassion is the underlying reason. But, I think it goes deeper than that. Even compassion has a seed from which it grows. So, what is it that compels someone to reach out a hand of compassion and kindness?

I’ll probably never know the answer to that question. Then again, it doesn’t really matter if I do or don’t. What matters is that I have often been the recipient of something precious: the compassion of others. It certainly wasn’t as a result of any merit of mine. Yet, their compassion made me feel as though there were something meritorious within me; something worthy of being noticed.

To say that all of those encounters have left me in amazement would be an understatement. To say that they’ve left me feeling extreme gratitude would be right on the mark.


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