|You can't see his face, but he still has one.|
Most people don't, you know. Most don't look at their faces, and don't think of them as real people. As individuals. It's much easier to lump them together and dismiss them as a faceless nameless group of... what? Unfortunates?
A castaway in the sea was going down for the third time when he caught sight of a passing ship. Gathering his last strength, he waved frantically and called for help. Someone on board peered at him scornfully and shouted back, "Get a boat!" [Daniel Quinn]
Is that the kind of disdain society shows the homeless? I'm ashamed to say it, but all too often, it is.
At least, we try harder this time of year. After all, 'tis the season, right?
Last week, the World Congress Center in Atlanta was put to a very good use. Not to promote industry or innovative ideas, and not as a center for a robotics or some other kind of competition. No, it was used as the venue to provide a lovely Thanksgiving dinner to people in need, many of whom were homeless. Some 7000 people were served on-site, and another 1000 meals were delivered to people who were unable to attend. In addition, haircuts, clothing, medical care, and other services were provided, as needed.
Fabulous, right? This annual feeding, began by the now-deceased Hosea Williams, has been taking place in Atlanta for many years. But what happens to all of those people the other 364 days of the year?
Four years ago, a homeless man who'd been wandering the streets of Atlanta for nearly a year was featured in our local newspaper. His story started with him doing what he did every day... digging through dumpsters for something to eat.
But he wasn't nobody to the hotel manager. Based on the picture taken by the security camera, people hit the streets until they found Joel... and brought him back to the hotel. There, he was given five hundred dollars and a week's stay, complete with free room service and a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Joel was much appreciative of the shower and bed. He also received new clothes, a haircut, and a modicum of new-found dignity. He also got a lot of publicity. Other people sent money and gifts to him, and he got several job offers. He was the homeless man who'd done the right thing. He was the homeless man with a background story... the homeless man with a face. With a name...
and a family, a family that had been trying to find him for the past decade. His deceased father's long-time girlfriend and two half-brothers flew to Atlanta to reunite with him. They all had Thanksgiving dinner together, and then the family left. Went back home to their lives.
Joel's short time in the limelight brings up a lot of questions. Like, what does it say about decent society that it can be so insultingly surprised that a homeless man did the right thing? After all, no matter what his current circumstances, how can we justify jumping to the automatic assumption that he isn't a kind and caring soul, and a decent man with concern for other people?
I mean, I don't think I'm alone when I look at the homeless person or the psychotic or the drunk or the drug addict and see their baby pictures in my mind's eye. You don't think they were cute like every other baby? [Dustin Hoffman]
Hungry not only for bread — but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing — but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks — but homeless because of rejection. [Mother Teresa]
Have you ever wished people were as loving and caring year-round as they are during this time of year? Wondered why the smiles and laughter aren't as heartfelt, and the hugs as warm, in March as they are in December? Why you don't get a mountain of wrapped presents every day, instead of just one measly time a year? (Only kidding about that one. Just checking to see if you were paying attention.) Anyway, Christmas is fast approaching. Anticipation builds, and as we all prepare to celebrate, I'd like to share an excerpt from Keeping Christmas, written by Henry Van Dyke:
There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.
Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.
Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front of you so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open---
Are you willing to do these things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?
Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.
If you light a lamp for someone, it will also brighten your path. [Buddhist saying]