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Strolling the Mall

May 12, 2015

Nicollet_MallYesterday I took an afternoon walk downtown.  The air was brisk and the wind strong, but I needed a bit of fresh air after a long morning of training.  As usual, plenty of folks down on their luck were sitting on Nicollet Mall, bundled up, flying signs, and hoping for a kind passerby.  I said hi to one of the  men as I walked down the street, and he said something back.  I couldn’t quite hear what he said, so I turned around to ask him.

Tommy is going through a rough patch.  He used to live on the streets (a “street person” in his own words), but was able to get his social security and disability benefits set up.  He now lives on $750/month, and whatever he can get on the streets during the day.  He can’t afford new clothes or healthcare (the VA cut off his health insurance after he started receiving those lucrative Social Security benefits), but he’s in good spirits.

The thing about Tommy is that he seemed genuinely grateful, happy even.  He was content talking to me for twenty minutes in the middle of his day.  I’m sure people who may have put a dollar or two in his hand never stopped while I was there.  Spending time with me could very well have cost him money.  Yet he happily told me stories of his days in the military, stationed in San Diego.  He told me about the time he watched an F-18 crash not 100 yards away from him, all but losing his hearing in one ear.  He told me about his friend who was discharged after shooting a frog while on patrol, thinking it was the enemy.  He even talked about his ex-wife, joyfully recalling their time together.

Tommy is in a rough spot.  But Tommy is one of the nicest people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of talking in quite a while.

Many people avoid “beggars” on the street.  “They’ll go buy drugs with my hard-earned money,” they say.  “I don’t want to enable them.  I’d rather write a check to the Salvation Army.”  But, let’s be honest – that’s an excuse.  Show me your Salvation Army check, and I’ll show you my winning lotto ticket.  We don’t give, because it’s inconvenient.  We’re worried about what the people watching us will think when we hand a homeless woman two dollars.  We’re scared that we’ll feel like we wasted money by giving it to someone in need.  At our worst, we think the people are liars, making thousands of dollars each month, taking home more than we do in our weekly paychecks for “honest work.”

It’s not about the homeless at all.  My excuses are evidence of the state of my heart.

Tommy isn’t homeless.  Tommy didn’t ask for money.  Tommy isn’t a drunk (though he’s quit smoking about 30 times over the years, a “professional quitter” he says).  Tommy seemed more bothered by his cardboard sign than he was trying to feature it to folks walking by.  He simply wanted to talk with someone, share his story, and enjoy his afternoon.

What are you going to do about people like Tommy?  He doesn’t fit into your mold of the typical “beggar.”  More to the point, what are you going to do about the people who do fit into your mold of the “beggar”?  Jesus calls us to give to the needy.  There’s no verse that says, “Give to the poor, unless you don’t approve of what they’ll spend it on.”  Let’s not forget – the purpose is to show Christ’s love, not ensure you, a complete stranger, revolutionize her life.  Nor is the purpose for you to feel good about yourself.  Honestly, if you’re in it to feel good, you’re probably better off just averting your eyes like you usually do.

So I ask again – What are you going to do?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. leebaileyseiler permalink
    May 12, 2015 7:22 pm

    Well I guess I won’t know what I’m actually going to do until I put myself in a position to do something, so tomorrow I’m going to follow your lead and go out and find someone to talk to. As an incentive to make me take action, I’ll promise to come back and report what happened. Anyone else want to take up the challenge and join me?

    • thebassoflife permalink*
      May 13, 2015 2:05 pm

      That’s fantastic, Lee! Please give us an update! 🙂

  2. leebaileyseiler permalink
    May 19, 2015 2:04 pm

    Forgot to check back in. After one interesting false start, I made a successful connection the other day and was able to share a rain coat on a drizzly day and I met someone on my semi-regular route who I’m guessing I’ve seen before and who I’ll see again, only next time I’ll see him for who he really is, not who I assume him to be. Thanks for stirring the pot CL.

    • thebassoflife permalink*
      May 20, 2015 11:44 am

      This is so good, Lee! Thanks for checking in!

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