It’s scary to step outside your comfortable suburbia and venture into the the lives of those who look, act, (and smell) completely different than you. I’ve been making efforts to do this more lately and it’s been a learning curve. This blog keeps me accountable to myself. If I write it, I better be doing it, right? I write about the things I long to do and be. Its my kick in the pants, so just last week I decided to get uncomfortable.
My son and I keep a homeless care package in the van just in case we meet up with a homeless person somewhere. That very place last week was the bottle depot. The man, was older, wearing rugged, thick clothes. I’m not sure if he could sense my eyes scanning him in my Connie-inconspicuous manner (which probably wasn’t very inconspicuous at all). I wanted to be sure he was homeless and not just some man who works in the trades coming to drop off bottles on his way home after work.
The man came out the door and began walking away. You know those moments when you have an inner conflict with yourself about what to do? Should I, Shouldn’t I? The baby was now full-on screaming. I really needed to get him home…. Before I could give myself one more reason to get in my suburban ride (aka mini van) I yelled out, “Sir!!” He walked back and my son gave him our care package. I wish I could tell you how he started to cry with gratitude. No, he actually still had me confused of whether he was homeless or not. I was already planning my apology about how I could have mistaken him to be homeless , but then he opened his mouth and said to us; “Thank you for your kindness.” He had the worst teeth I’ve probably seen in my life. We shook hands and he turned and walked away, soon disappearing behind some buildings.
A few days later I was at the gas station and saw a man picking cans out of the garbage. I was getting to be an expert talking to the homeless after my bottle depot interaction, so I opened my mouth and asked him; “Do you need money?” I have a gift of stating what’s imperatively OBVIOUS. He answered, “Yes”, so I gave him all I had on me, ten dollars (I hope my hubby’s not reading this…) He thanked me then started to walk away. I couldn’t just leave it there? Could I? I mean, I did my “duty” right? What else could I possibly do? I thought; “I could TALK to him….” But he has scary teeth! What if he attacks me?…. Typical suburban fear. Incredibly uncomfortable (but never showing it) I asked him where he was staying (too forward? perhaps… but it’s the first thing I thought of). He began to tell me he was staying with his sister and was collecting bottles to give her cash to help with the groceries. This man wasn’t scary. He was thoughtful. And thank God for family not abandoning their brother in need.
A week later I was getting my hair done at my favorite salon downtown, Hed Kandi at Hotel Arts with my favorite stylists in the world: Chrissy Straub and Kathy Olsen (apparently it takes two stylists to handle me….) I was waiting in the Starbucks next door for my hubby to pick me up when I saw a man in the corner sleeping sitting up, his hands clutching his coffee. You could tell the discomfort of the guests who sat as far away from him as possible. I decided to sit a couple of seats down. Then I understood why everyone kept their distance. This guy smelled. In my wallet was a fifteen dollar Starbucks card given to me by one of my dance students the night before. My plan was to write him a note and leave the Starbucks card in front of him, but he woke up. Well, I’d been bold two times that week, at least my confidence was building, so I went and sat beside him starting the conversation by saying; “How’s your day going?” (Geesh, I really need to get better at my opening lines). He was gracious and said our typical North American, “Fine”. I gave him the card and asked him where he’d be spending Christmas. He didn’t know. I told him about the Mustard Seed which was only a few blocks away. I hyped up their fabulous dinner and loving volunteers.
Hubby had arrived, so I gave him the Starbucks card and said; “Stay warm” (“Stupid, stupid”, I thought as I left)
On the way home I pondered my conversation with him and wondered what would have happened if I didn’t tell him all about the wonderful food at the shelter? What if I would have invited him to share the wonderful food in our home? Audacious! What would my mother say! But I couldn’t help but wonder if my charity, although valid and heartfelt, is still too safe? Comfortable? It’s easy to tell someone to go to a shelter for a meal, but what about sharing one with my family?
We’re so afraid of what we don’t know. We have our pre-conceived notions about what we think people are like without knowing anything at all. I didn’t. Was I nervous? Yes! Even afraid? I hate to admit it (I say I laugh I in the face of danger), but YES, pee-your-pants kind of fear. But why?
We’re afraid of what to say and saying something wrong. Coming from someone who has now said really dumb things to three different homeless men, I can honestly tell you they’re just happy you made the effort. They could somehow tell my heart was in the right place and they were gracious.
Maybe the thought of inviting someone homeless over for a meal is just as scary for you as it is for me. Don’t start there. Start with caring. Start with something as simple as carrying a homeless care package in your van. Venture to talk to one in a public place.
Caring doesn’t take rocket science. Just a little love, courage and embracing discomfort.