If you’ve ever given change to a homeless man, a street person or a “bum”, you might have done so because it made you feel charitable or because you felt sorry for that person, or because you were feeling particularly grateful for all that you have and wanted to share. Whatever your reasons you probably have also wondered what that person did with the money that you gave them.
My husband and I always want to help these people but always have this nagging feeling that maybe just handing over money is really contributing to someone’s drug problem or alcoholism. I think a lot of us have preconceived notions about who the homeless people are in our town and what they are like. We assume that they must have done something stupid, or broke the law or have some mental issues which have resulted in their homeless state. We have continued to give in spite of this concern because it just seemed the right thing to do. We even started carrying things around in our car, toothpaste, blankets, nuts… things we thought might be useful to someone on the streets… but after having these things in our car for several months without encountering any street people, we eventually gave up.
All of my ideas about homeless people changed today.
We were on our way out to breakfast this morning and stopped at the lights where a homeless man was holding his sign, panhandling. I gave my husband $2 and asked him to give it to the man out his window. The man was very polite and thanked us for this small gesture. The light turned green and we continued on our way to the restaurant… then my husband said, “Do you want to take him to breakfast with us?”. I responded “Sure” and so we proceeded turn the car around and go back.
My husband offered the breakfast invite to the man who initially declined, but eventually said he would come with us. He introduced himself as Dennis and began to tell us his story. The story was one of success, incredible pain, unbelievable luck, treachery, loss, love and hope. As he spoke I began to realize that this man is not at all different from myself. He once was just like everyone you know — he ran is own business, he had a family, he had a house, he had all the things that society considers to be “normal”.
In one freak accident he lost it all. But he gained so much more. Where he once was stressed and angry, now he is happy and peaceful. Where he once saw people as rich or poor, smart or stupid, successful or not , now he sees people as people, no less no more. Where he once lived in fear of what people thought of him, he has found freedom. Where he once lived according to what society told him was right he has found his own path.
As we discussed philosophy and life I almost felt envious of this man who sleeps on God’s land under a bridge and eats his meals due to the kindness of others. He shared how his life on the street is different than most because he has strong principles and a peaceful happiness that oozes from his pores. It’s quite clear that all those who interact with him regularly see that he is different.
What an inspiration he is: a man with “nothing” who tells me that he has everything that he needs to be happy.
Our breakfast stretched on for several hours as we talked with this intelligent and kind man. What initially started out as good deed, turned on it’s head and blessed us with a new friend. We left him on his street corner, not feeling as though we should help him more, but feeling as though he had helped us.
Where do you find the special souls that can bless your life? In the places that you might not want to look.