Beneath the bridges
of the highways
People speed by, never seeing
the homeless citizens
The full moon rises over the city
setting in silhouette
the downtrodden settle
with their bowls of soup
the light they can't seem to catch.
Tonight, I read a post over at A Second Chance, well worth reading for everyone. The article he cites is in my territory; I intimately know the area, and I will share a piece of this with you. But first, please read Uncle Jim's post:
35W and University Avenue
Best job: "Working for Northwestern Bell, back in '72. Lineman."
Worst job: "Day labor stuff. Minnesota Barrel, for instance. They're heavy, you gotta stack 'em three high and stuff. But it was a job. I did everything there is."
Last job: "Senior center in Cambridge, doing maintenance work on their facility. I'm a handyman."
Dream job: "I dunno. I really don't. I'm on veterans' disability. I was in Vietnam."
Although Uncle Jim quotes three, I used this one...because it is the children of our generation who will be writing articles on us, but they will be quoting "Desert Storm", "Afghanistan", or "Iraq". And if you look at the current political culture, you will see some very disturbing parallels with the Vietnam Generation.
So, without, further ado, I'll tell my story, because this image lives on in me and I will not rest until I both share it and live up to it.
My regular readers are aware of the job I hated so much...working for a big insurance company. I was an investigator, and part of my job (a large part, actually) involved going to the Land of Misfit Cars to complete vehicle inspections.
So it was that I often passed by the intersection of Lyndale and Dunwoody, 2nd Ave, and Glenwood. All run from downtown Minneapolis, under I-94 in the area of I-394, and serves as a particular place in which the Homeless make themselves known.
Some bridge underpasses are for shelter; others are for jobs.
I often saw people holding cardboard signs; "Will work for FOOD". And the like.
One day, after leaving Minneapolis Impound and heading south on Lyndale from 2nd Avenue, I came to the stop light at Lyndale and Dunwoody. I was driving a company SUV with our name on the side, and as such, was always conscious of the image I was projecting to the world...as well as the need to protect the confidential information that was held in my laptop on the passenger seat. I never did anything when I saw these people, usually choosing to avoid eye contact, although I often offered prayers. It was all I could do; I did not carry money or anything else on the job.
On that day, though, I saw something amazing.
How many people, when they see the homeless holding up signs, think, "Well, if I give that person money, he's just going to spend it on alcohol?" Or some variation on that theme.
So it was that I was in the vehicle, just waiting for the light to change. On the Northeast corner of Lyndale and Dunwoody, a man stood, holding a sign, begging for food.
Another young man, perhaps a college student coming from Dunwoody, was crossing Lyndale towards the homeless person, holding an apple in his hand along with his books.
I watched as he passed the man, neither acknowledging each other. god and the homeless both know that students are poor and have nothing to offer, so the former did not address the latter, expecting he would not be able to respond.
The homeless man with the sign kept on searching the drivers at the light; he did not approach anyone, only stood with his sign, the epitomy of humility.
But then something happened. The young man, the student, stopped in his tracks in the shadow of I-94, there on the west side of Downtown Minneapolis. He stopped, and looked at the apple in his hand, then turned on his heel and returned to the man with the sign, who was, by then completely oblivious to his presence.
The man with the apple either spoke or tapped the man on his shoulder, I can't remember which. The man with the sign turned around in obvious surprise, and dropped his hand-made sign to his side as he responded to the student.
The student held out his apple, almost hesitantly, yet with a certain confidance; as though he recognized that this is what he was supposed to do. The homeless man seemed to question the gift; he was clearly shocked, but when the student shrugged and continued to hold out the apple, the homeless man accepted it with a bow of gratitude, his surprise written into every feature. As the student walked away the homeless man bowed again, the gratitude literally fused into his very being, and he began to eat the apple with complete joy. His sign was forgotten; he had food in his hand, and it didn't matter that he was standing on a ghetto street corner beneath an interstate bridge...he had food from a generous stranger.
That scene has played itself out in my mind, over and over again.
It's not safe to carry money, and I have done too much work with regard to car theft to just open my window to people. And if in the middle lane, inviting people into traffic for a handout is simply not a good idea.
But the simplicity of an apple, the simple gesture of offering it with a shrug...that has done so much for me.
We don't have to offer change to the poor. We can offer actual food. We can offer granola bars, apples, gift certificates...things we ourselves use.
From that day on, I always wanted to have something to offer, but I didn't because if someting went wrong, I did not want to compromise the private information of my customers. But as a regular citizen, being a woman...could I offer something safely?
You know your neighborhood. Those who stand on corners tend to be "regulars". They are not there to carjack you. Discern. Can you safely offer some fruit or a biscuit from breakfast, an extra meal for the guy who hangs out on your nearby corner? Do you have a copy of "Employment Weekly" or the name of a Social Worker they can contact?
Do you have the name of a church they can go to for help? A soup kitchen?
Go to your Guardian Angel, and address that of the person you are now considering. Be guided in your giving, but give. The man I saw did not see the reaction of the homeless man, who continued to rejoice long after his benefactor was out of sight.
We do not love the poor for their gratitude; we love them for the Christ who redeemed them and who lives within them.