I'm encouraged to participate in this November challenge with my church congregation.
Inspiring Compassion: The 30 Day Compassion Challenge. 30 days to explore the topic of compassion: Mindfulness, Compassion for Friends & Family, Self-Compassion, Compassion for All, Compassion for Our Planet.
Yesterday, I kept my mouth shut.
I try to be sensitive to the homeless. I remember that they are people who have a much tougher life than I could endure. Sleeping outside, subject to crime and scorn. Facing uncertainty and illness. No, I don't subscribe for a moment to the theory that they're just "lazy."
But homeless people are people, and like any group of people, there are bad ones mixed in with the good. Here in town, we have a long-time homeless man who is a strange combination of entitled and mean. He doesn't respect your space when he asks for money. Now he's been panhandling around here for years, so I'm not afraid of him. But for people who don't know him, I imagine it's scary to have him in your face. Years ago -- before the pandemic -- he got a forever spot on my bad side because he actually tried to shame me for not giving him enough money. We were on the el platform and he asked me (as always, standing too close) for "money for a sandwich." I took the dime and nickels from my pocket and handed them to him.
"I can't buy a sandwich with this!" he shouted, going on to tell my fellow commuters, "I asked her for money for a sandwich, and she gives me a quarter!"
First of all, I would never give away my quarters. I need them for laundry! Secondly, what the ever loving hell?
"The correct response," I said icily, "would be 'thank you.' It's not my responsibility to buy you a sandwich." A much nicer person than I will ever be said, "I got you, Buddy," and gave him a dollar bill.
Every time he's begun to approach me, ever since, wherever we are, I remind him of that day. "Remember this face," I always tell him. "I'm the woman you insulted on the el platform because I didn't give you enough. I will never help you."
There are enough people who need my help, want my help, and don't try to guilt or extort my help. I won't waste my time, energy or money by giving one of my blessings bags* to him.
ANYWAY (it's taken me a long while to get to present day, hasn't it?) yesterday I saw him again. He was on the corner in front of the bank, yelling at the streetlight and throwing something -- turns out it was dry Ramen noodles -- at the button you press for the WALK light. He was really mad at that button. The light had changed, and changed back, but he wouldn't stop scolding it.
He was clearly having some sort of break. I kept walking. I encountered a pair of cops in front of Target. I was going to tell them about the homeless man, and then I didn't.
Maybe they would have helped him, and his life would be better for it. Or maybe they would have arrested him, which could have upset and frightened him. I don't know.
I do know what was in my heart, though. It wasn't help for him. It was more punitive. I wanted him off the street. I wanted to be rid of his embarrassing display. He was an eyesore.
Since my motivation was far from altruistic, I kept my mouth shut. It was a busy Black Friday. I wasn't the only one who saw him. Let a kinder person, a person without our baggage, help him. Because I think intent matters, and my intent would have been unkind.
Compassion for all, even him. Maybe especially him.
*I always carry ziplock bags containing a clean mask, a package of tissues, a breakfast bar and a $1 bill. Sometimes I include cough drops or a comb. Depends on what's on the shelves at The Dollar Store.