After leaving JW I typically drive a couple blocks out of my way so I can pass by a freeway ramp, where there is often someone on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign. In my car's backseat I've a box of "homeless bags" with water and cereal bars and stuff, that I like to hand out. Normally I try to make eye contact and at least say "hi" to the person, acknowledging their humanity, but yesterday there was a car behind me so I felt a bit rushed and that made it a barely-slow-down-drive-by-handoff. The man was super friendly though, and incredibly grateful (reactions run the gamut, I've been surprised to discover), and as I drove off my brain processed seeing the words "7-year-old daughter" on his sign; normally if I see someone has a kid I'll give them two bags, this time though I just didn't register it fast enough.
Feeling badly about this, I thought about going around for another pass. At this moment, three other thoughts coalesced: 1) I realized that literally no more than an hour prior, I'd led 100 or so people in singing songs about being the church, being God's kingdom here and now. 2) running through my head were the words "what would Darrell do?" And 3) a memory from LA a few years ago: my friend Nathan and his then-girlfriend-now-wife Catherine were grabbing coffee, when a homeless man approached us. We declined to help him, but Catherine was ill-at-ease with our response, and so we went to a nearby grocery store and she bought him a sandwich and talked with him. Since that moment I've hoped my future wife will be someone like that, but why wait - I want to be that person already, before I meet her. I said to myself, "all right, let's go do this."
I drove around the block and parked and walked over to the man with a couple more bags in my hand. He was thrilled to get the cereal bars (healthy snacks for his kid), and waters (something to sip on while he's standing out in the sun). Then I asked him his story. In a recent blog post I highlighted this quote from Beggars in Spain, which, evidently, has begun to inform my life in a tangible, non-academic way:
What the strong owe beggars is to ask each one why he is a beggar and act accordingly. Because community is the assumption, not the result. And only by giving non-productiveness the same individuality as excellence, and acting accordingly, does one fulfill the obligation to the beggars in Spain.Talking with the man, who's name was Matt, it was immediately obvious from his vernacular that he was a well-educated, intelligent guy. He shared with me that he used to be a gourmet chef, raking in $100K+ a year, but lost his job in the wake of medical issues, and now scrapes by working at Super America for $8/hour; that income isn't enough to make ends meet, and so on weekends he stands outside and begs. He and his daughter aren't homeless, they live in an apartment, and she doesn't know they're poor; and though he knows she'll find out eventually, he intends to keep her from knowing for as long as he can. They live on the edge, but with his income from the weekends, they are able to stay afloat.
We talked for a few minutes, and Matt mentioned he was getting (or had just received?) a Cisco networking certification. Hm. I asked him if he'd done much with Linux administration, and though he said "not much", I noted he at least knew the word "Linux", which I saw as promising. I handed him my card asked him to email me, because I know we're hiring an entry level admin at my work. I also qualified: no promises, I'm a nobody, but I can still get his resume into somebody's hands. The man wants to work, so who knows, maybe I can help make that connection.
Most importantly, though, I engaged him in conversation and acknowledged him as human. I didn't give him any money, and he didn't ask me for any. Maybe he'll email me, maybe he won't; God only knows if ever in fact Matt and I will interact again. Though I can't imagine begging on the side of a road in order to pay the bills, my belief is reinforced that for those of us who claim faith in Jesus and how He lived, we also then must own a responsibility to being the Church of Jesus, "Going beyond just words and songs .... Being the first to serve the last .... [and being] A blessing to the world without a need to be the stars."