Hardly a week goes by in Dallas where you won't encounter a homeless person at an intersection. I'd say I probably see one or two people a week, holding up a sign, asking for food or money. I'll be completely honest...it wasn't too long ago that I would look upon these people in disgust. I certainly wouldn't give them money, and condescending thoughts would immediately enter my head. "I bet they just use the money for alcohol." "They're so lazy." "Oh great, he's coming towards my car." I look back on these thoughts, and I'm completely and utterly embarrassed. What made me so much better than them? Because I drove a nice car? Owned a home? Had a college education? Big deal. I've worked really hard to get to where I am today, but I can't deny that I've been lucky in life. My mother was able to stay home and raise me and give me constant attention and nurturing. Not many families are able to manage on only one income. Maybe that played a part in my later success in school. My parents sent me to private school for most of my life, where I got a fantastic education that really prepared me for the future. Not everybody has parents who can afford private school. My achievements in high school led to scholarships, which provided me the opportunity for higher learning. Getting my Master's Degree opened a lot of doors and has helped in securing a fantastic job. A lot of things had to fall into place throughout this process. I didn't get here on hard work alone. So how would my life have been different if any of the aforementioned opportunities were missing? What if all of them were missing? It's easy to look at a homeless person and say, "Oh, I would never be in that situation" or "I would never allow that to happen to me or my family." Some people just don't have the same fortune we do, through no fault of their own. And the moment we acknowledge that, we realize that we can't look down on others, whom we know nothing about, and assume the worst. We're all human beings. We're all trying to survive. Can you imagine the day where you decide your best option is standing on a street corner, begging for money? I doubt it.
"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness." - Seneca
My stance on homeless people has changed, in part, because of my friend Kristen. Every now and then we'll talk about what we did over the previous weekend, and halfway through her story, she'll get to a part about how she bought some food for a homeless person. She doesn't go out of her way to point it out, in some attempt to gain praise; she just mentions it because it played a part in her activities that day. And I'm sure there are many times she makes no mention at all of her interactions with the homeless. It's just so second nature to her to offer food to a homeless person. She doesn't have to. She could easily get her pizza and walk right by that guy. But she doesn't. She orders an extra slice so he'll have something to eat. She makes me want to be a better person.
So I'm trying. I don't look the other way. I read the sign and I make eye contact. I treat them like human beings. If I have a dollar, I give it to them. And I smile when I give it, in hopes that it might make them smile. What if my dollar went towards the only meal they were having that day? What a big difference I just made in their life, then. What if that dollar went towards a beer? Oh well, better luck next time. I'm no worse off in life. I think I'll take the risk that my money goes towards an unfavorable outcome, if there's also a chance that it could do some good.
"At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in'." - Mother Teresa