I love homeless people. I love them all.
I wish that I didn't have to; I wish that there were none to love. I get angry that people, thousands upon thousands of people, go to sleep each night without shelter. I get angrier that our world is a place that not only allows homelessness to occur but that it is also a place that convinces so many of these people that homelessness is not only better than 'home-more-ness' but that homelessness is what they deserve.
Sometimes it's difficult to live here in Los Angeles because, any time I leave my house, it's virtually guaranteed that I am going to see someone suffering and, sometimes, I don't even have to leave. On the job, it's easy to get frustrated with our clients. Lately, there seems to be an influx of people in our shelter who can't follow the rules. The rules aren't hard, at least not for someone like you or me. They're simple things like respecting employees and other clients or not bringing illegal drugs on the premises. It's heartbreaking to watch someone escorted out of shelter by the police because they were threatening other residents or sexually harassing employees. It's heartbreaking because you know that he'll be sleeping on the streets tonight.
It's hard to have compassion for a man like this who's screaming and spitting all of the worst names at you or your colleagues as he is forcibly removed. The only way that I can handle that is blind faith. The only way I can have the patience to deal with people like this is to lean on the never-ending patience of God. I have to believe that this man can be changed. After all, he once acted in movies next to Sinatra and Brando and I can order his Grammy-winning album on Amazon. I have to believe that he'll be back one day and that he'll be better and nicer.
Off the job, it's difficult for me not to stop and talk to every person I see or, at least, buy them a snack. I struggle with the fact that I don't have enough time or resources to do this. Whenever I see someone who is homeless, the first thing I feel is fear. It's not a fear for my safety but a fear that maybe this night is the person's last or that if I walk by without acknowledging his existence, it will just drive him one step deeper inside a mind warped by drugs, mental illness, social isolation, or a combination of it all. (And, then, I have to ask myself is that perception is just my own prejudice?)
This week, in my Bible study, we talked about how the mature Christian feels tension and uses that tension to grow in faith and wisdom. While I won't claim maturity, that is tension that I feel on the surface everyday. Am I supposed to talk to this person? Do I have the time? Is this important right now?
Often the people I see on the job and off are what my co-workers jokingly call 'bomb blast victims.' (Humor is a great method for coping.) These people are dirty. D-i-r-t-y. They've hair that's shoulder length and twisted into dreads by the outdoors and entwined with trash from bits of paper to food or anything else. They trudge along, usually wearing a combination of two or three mismatched coats, torn jeans, often over-sized, that are more gone than there. Their skin is usually soiled with black streaks like those on your mechanic's hands and arms and they inch along, head down and shuffling their feet, weight shifted on their toes and bending their knees less than a person in normal stride. When you get close, they smell like something between stale urine and and old beer. If you speak to them they often refuse to respond or seem unable. When I see these people, I am dumbfounded.
What do you think when you see someone like that? Honestly? I know that I think that I'm better than him, that he has likely done something to deserve this. The darkest part of me believes that he does. I think that I must save him.
Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (3:21-23) that everything is ours, everything, and that we are Christ's. This reminds me that we are all the same. Compassion, I think, is the acknowledgment of this fact. It's the realization that my bomb blast victim's suffering is my own my suffering and that he is my equal. It's remembering that my responsibility is not saving him, but to include him, to pull him closer with the love of God.
Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries (click to read about it!), reminds me in Tattoos on the Heart that we are to radically include those who are excluded and leave Jesus to do the saving, much like the men who tore the roof off to lower the paralyzed man to Jesus to be healed. The men did not heal their friend. They just included him. They had compassion. Boyle reminds us, too, that Jesus didn't just send money or chat with those on the outside, theses outcasts, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the lepers. He touched them, hugged them, kissed them, and dined with them. He included them.
And so, I struggle within myself to come from this place, where I am helping these people as my peers and equals, loving them and letting God direct their healing instead of a place where I am superior and I am saving them because, let's face it, if it's just me, I'm bound to fail and to fail spectacularly.
I want to end with a prayer I wrote for myself the other night. I've been feeling sort of like I'm just treading water lately, that I'm not making any progress. I think that it's likely stems from a natural lull in my emotions after all the excitement about the newness of everything here has worn off, but whether it is or it isn't, I just need help to see the light, I guess. I'm excited to come home for a week (I arrive on the 22nd and return on the 29th) to celebrate Christmas with my friends and family and to, hopefully, get some rejuvenation. So...here, the prayer:
Isn't it something the way Love works?
The way Life works?
The way that, just, all of a sudden,
And Changes everything.
But then, when I look,
It's not sudden,
It's not life changing.
I look back and...
The signs were there,
All pointing to it.
My life was there.
It was laid before me.
It was always You.
We, we were all just too blind to see.
Lord, don't let me be blind again.
Let me keep Your Wisdom.
Sustain me with Your Power.
Let me always see Your Joy.
Let me always feel Your Love.
Let that Love radiate through me.