Our sleepy town doesn’t really have a homeless problem. None that I know of, anyway. Those who through choice or circumstance lose their station in life usually have family or friends who are more than willing to offer them a place to stay.
But things are different in the nearby cities, where there are more than a few poor souls who have slipped through the cracks and settled on society’s murky bottom. Forgotten or, even worse, ignored.
You see these people most often perched along the busiest intersections. Their appearance is consistent with their desperation and need—dirty clothes, often a dirtier hat, unshaven and gaunt. And there is always a sign.
VETERAN PLEASE HELP GOD BLESS.
HIV+ NEED MEDICINE.
HUNGRY FAR FROM HOME PLEASE GIVE.
I have friends who refuse to give to such people based upon the skepticism that whatever proceeds these people receive will be used for less than savory activities. They don’t want to be a part of enabling a drug addict to buy more meth or a drunk more liquor. I also have friends who give regardless, believing that their act of mercy, of helping the helpless, is an act God happens to smile brightly upon.
I happen to adopt the latter position and give as often as I can, though I’ll admit there have been more than a few times when I have questioned the validity of their statements.
Still, these signs have always fascinated me. They represent the current state of one person’s life pared down to reveal only the essentials. One story able to fit on a single piece of discarded cardboard. And they are each by necessity crafted to initiate an immediate response. They are not designed to persuade through the intellect or please the eyes. They are meant to be shot as an arrow into the heart.
After running a few errands in the city yesterday, I was on my way home when I saw a man sitting by the guardrail on the opposite side of the road. His flannel shirt hung loosely from his body, sleeves rolled up against the hot sun. The blue work pants that completed the outfit were the sort that provided the maximum amount of wear for the least amount of money. A pair of untied brown tennis shoes shuffled the gravel.
But it was his sign that caught my attention. Three words, and no more. Three words that spoke very much with very little and offered honesty rather than a plea.
DESPERATE AND TIRED, it read.
The rush hour traffic was such that I couldn’t turn around and offer him what I could. I didn’t have much choice but to keep going. As I drove I watched him through the side mirror, hoping someone would stop.
No one did. Some, I suppose, didn’t notice him. Others probably did but then decided not to. One car full of teenagers blew their horn and offered a chorus of middle fingers.
The man never moved. Never shifted his weight or lifted his head. This was not so much an insult as it was the status quo.
Yet I realized that we all were in many ways like that poor man. Like all of the lost souls who roam our streets and barely manage to survive. We’ve all slipped through our own share of cracks at some point.
VETERAN PLEASE HELP GOD BLESS? We’ve all sacrificed, given all we’ve had, only to not get the same returned back to us.
HIV+ NEED MEDICINE? We are all hurting in our own way. Some are afflicted with physical ailments. Others have their ailments on the inside. Many of us have both.
HUNGRY FAR FROM HOME PLEASE GIVE? Within each of us is a hunger, whether to love or be loved, that can only be filled by a God who at this moment is readying a faraway place for us to call home.
And let’s not forget the last. DESPERATE AND TIRED. How many times have we all felt that way?
The difference between us and them have much less to do with our level of comfort and much more to do with our level of honesty.
Because we all carry a sign that tells the story of our lives, pared down to reveal only the essentials. They choose to show the world in a bid for help. We don’t. And for that, they are better.