Even though I’ve lived a somewhat difficult life thus far, I will admit that I am certainly taken care of; blessed; have many things to be thankful for. It took a trip to California to realize it and take my mind off my problems and focus more on the needs of others. And for the past two weeks, I cannot stop thinking about the strangers who crossed my path: the homeless.
When I mention the homeless in California to friends (at home), some of them immediately think of the panhandlers who hold up signs in hopes of playing the emotions of passing motorists and scoring a few bucks. Those folks aren’t homeless, and if they are, they choose to be. Many of them have more money than those who contribute to their laziness and lies. They just don’t want to work. But out in California, where the sun always shines and most people seem happy, there are real homeless people (not that Ohio doesn’t have them) on the streets–and they don’t have signs or stand on the corners begging for money. And sadly, to find a few in a short distance wasn’t uncommon. I came across many in my eight-day visit. Several I will never forget.
In a five-block radius in Hillcrest, San Diego, I came across at least five homeless people. They mostly looked the same; they had dirt-stained skin, dark teeth, and dark eyes. They had messy hair and wore raggedy clothing. Some carried bags while some pushed shopping carts. They all wore layers of clothing though the weather was warm. Two of them who appeared to be schizophrenic, sat against walls and electric boxes on the streets, screaming at everyone and no one at the same time. They seemed to be tortured and battling some demons. A couple guys approached me to ask for money, but I was advised to not even so much as make eye contact with any of them. Being in a strange and unfamiliar place by myself, I followed my friend’s advice. There were several others who really stood out among them.
The first one was an older man who appeared to be in his sixties. He had white hair, a gray and white beard, and looked to be about six feet tall and 220 pounds. I first met him while walking up the street to a restaurant for breakfast and almost tripped over his legs on the sidewalk. He was sleeping on the corner in front of the Episcopalian Church on my friend’s street. He didn’t move a muscle as he lied on the cold, hard concrete under the church sign that hid most of his body. I would later come to realize that man slept in that same spot every night.
The second one who stood out was a similar situation. We were at Pacific Beach bar-hopping, and I decided I wanted to see the ocean at night because I had never seen it. Fascinated by sound of the crashing waves though not being able to see anything, I started to step off the sidewalk into the sand towards the water and I almost tripped over another man’s legs. He was lying in the sand, completely covered up, and had his head slightly propped against the cement wall that separated the sidewalk from the sand. He looked uncomfortable but was fast asleep as though he did that all the time. He may very well.
The third situation, which I have been thinking about since, was at Ocean Beach. Being daylight and in the habit of looking down in front of me as I walked, I noticed a little girl crawling around on the stairs leading to the shore. She was about two years old, had long, blonde hair, and was wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt and some pink corduroy pants. The bottom six inches of her pant legs were completely black, and her clothes were covered in sand. She seemed to be playing by herself–though I assumed she was with someone. There was an elderly woman sitting on the nearby wall who had long, white hair, dirt-stained skin, and was dressed in layers. She looked like the bird lady from Mary Poppins and she seemed to be staring into space. I walked down to the ocean to get some pictures. When I turned around to get a complete view of my surroundings, I noticed a little boy about the same size and age playing around the wall between the little girl and the old woman. They didn’t appear to be together, but I didn’t see any other adults near that boy. I wasn’t sure what to think. After taking pics and heading back to the street to go for a walk, the woman calmly stopped me and asked if I’d seen a little boy. I assumed she meant the one I saw momentarily, so I turned to look for him. Turning back to tell her no, I realized she walked away. On the sidewalk where she had been sitting was a metal cart with four wheels, the kind elderly people use to push their groceries into their apartments. In the cart sat that little girl like an animal in a cage. She looked down at something she was sitting on, having a conversation I could barely hear and not at all comprehend. My heart was crushed. It was obvious the two children were with the elderly woman and the woman had lost the boy and thought the little girl was safe in the cart. I hope she was. And I hope the boy was found.
These situations not only flooded my mind with thoughts and questions but also gave me an appreciation I had never had and a pain in my heart I’d never felt. I will never be the same. I began to think about the lives of these folks, wondering what lead to their current situations. It sent my mind into the universe like a shooting star. I can’t stop thinking about it.
Why did the first man I almost tripped over sleep at the door of the church every night? Did he feel safe there? Was he afraid of the streets, too? Did he think God would keep him safe if he slept in front of His House every night? Was he hoping that passersby or the clergy would show him kindness and generosity and provide him with some food or shelter? Maybe he felt safer there. Maybe he felt closer to God there. And maybe he was. Maybe he hears God speaking to him there. Maybe he prays for the people who visit the church. We will never know.
And what about the man in the sand? How could he sleep with his head propped up on the concrete wall? Was he not concerned about possible bugs or other life crawling on him as he slept in the sand? And how could he sleep with his entire body and face covered up with clothes? Wasn’t he hot? Or did he just need complete darkness? Did it drowned out the sound of the waves and seagulls? Was he not afraid of his surroundings? Did he feel safe? Did he think this was the safest, most comfortable place for him? Was this just a place of peace for him? Was the man drunk or passed out or was this his normal routine? Does God talk to him there? Does he talk to God there? We will never know.
And what about the children and the old woman? Who are they in relation to her? Were they her great-grandchildren? How did she end up with them? Where were their parents? Why were they homeless? Did the children know they were homeless? Were they being fed? Did they have a safer place to sleep than the street corner or against a wall in the sand? Was the old woman mentally ill? Why wasn’t she hysterical when she couldn’t find the boy? Did she find him? Will these kids grow up with any normalcy? If they end up in a home with a family, will they recall the times of homelessness? Will God protect them? Does God protect them now? Does the old woman talk to God? Do the children?
There were so many thoughts flooding my mind when assessing the situations and circumstances surrounding the souls, but a line from a song silenced them. “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” I wondered if they knew God was watching them. He was. He is. And in that moment, I felt as though they knew. It calmed my heart.
I admire the homeless. They seem to be the most mindful individuals alive. They live in the moment.
Jesus said “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-27,34) Of all the things I’ve seen homeless people do, worry is not one of them. They live in the moment, go about their day, take what they get, and are appreciative of whatever that may be. May God bless them abundantly and help us be more like them. May God continue to look over them and provide each and every day.
In regards to the homeless, which Mother Teresa served most of her life, she said if they go hungry or thirsty or without basic necessities, it is because we did not care for them as we should. We will be to blame. She was right.
When Jesus returns, He will separate the people of all nations, putting the righteous to the right of His throne. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Mathew 25:34-40)
Is God speaking to the homeless? Are they listening? I will never know. He is, however, speaking to me. Am I listening? What can I do? I am not entirely certain, but I do know that when praying for opportunities to do good, God always provides.
May the good Lord give us minds like the homeless, hearts like Jesus, and a servant’s attitude like Mother Teresa. May He open our eyes and ears to the poor, homeless, unloved, unwanted, and rejected and show us obvious ways to help.
May we all go to sleep tonight thankful for what we have, mindful of those who have less, and full of prayers for opportunities to “store up for ourselves treasures in Heaven.”