Recently I had a couple of interactions with a few people in the homeless population that left me frustrated with myself. Both times I stumbled around what to say, thoughts circling in my head – what resources could I think of quickly to offer, do I buy food or do something else, do I have the time to sit here and talk, or what do I do? I didn’t have a good answer either time and disliked how I handled both situations. However, after feeling frustrated with myself, I sat and thought through what I could have done better and what I should do if the situation were to come up again (it will). I couldn’t go back and change how situations went, but I can learn and change how I might approach things in the future.
Shortly after these occurrences, Epi, Esteban and I went to Chipotle for dinner. On the corner by where we parked was a man asking for change. We made eye contact and said hello – that was one of the things I made a mental note to myself about prior, look at the person, acknowledge them and their existence. If there is a human being in front of you talking, you shouldn’t just look past and pretend you can’t hear them.
Standing in line at Chipotle, I still felt unsettled. Unbeknownst to me, Epi felt unsettled too; after a few minutes he spoke up and said, “What if we buy that guy dinner…or maybe invite him to eat with us?” And so, Kevin joined us for dinner.
Interestingly, as we’re in line choosing our burrito fillings Epi and I were both asked if we would be dining in or not. Kevin is just asked, “This is to go, right?” “It’s not,” Epi and I both say at the same time, he’s eating here. We sit at a table and I see every person in the restaurant staring at us. Literally, point blank just staring. Feeling uncomfortable with those who are homeless is a common issue it seems. We hold hands in a circle to pray, my son’s tiny hand engulfed by Kevin’s huge hand. We ask Esteban, per the usual, what he wants to thank God for and he points at Kevin. Our meal is fun, we hear Kevin’s story –about his parents, when he moved to Chicago, his current life.
In the end, Kevin carefully packed up the leftover food and put it in his backpack. We walk out of the restaurant together and bid him farewell. People asked us if we referred him to a shelter, we mentioned them but he knew way more about all that than we did. So what was the point we’ll get asked, why eat dinner with him? I think, because he is a human being and we are to see all people as just that – humans. To get to know them, hear their story, and see God in them. It’s easy to be absorbed in one’s life. To shy away from what’s uncomfortable but I don’t think that is okay. Your actions also don’t necessarily need to be classified as helpful. That’s where a lot of problems lie I believe, in the “us” helping “them” attitude. Instead, letting people be seen as people, having a meal together, letting our lives intersect, that’s where real change occurs.