Just Like Us
One of the best and kindest people I know — and definitely the smartest — is my friend, John. He’s one of those people you look at and think: “How does he do it?” He is a doctor of theology and teaches at a Dallas university. He speaks six languages, including Latin. And, oh yes, he is a classically-trained pianist and vocalist. Gosh, John, is that all???
You’d think he’d be ‘full of himself,’ but instead he’s full of humility, humor and love. The first time my grand kids met him, they talked for an entire year about a story he told them that night — off the top of his head — about a fanciful character called ‘Princerella.’
John also puts himself on the line. When I first mentioned mobile feeders of the homeless to him a few years back, he was volunteering with them within the week.
I sometimes find myself spouting a concept that sounds pretty clever and suddenly realize, “Hey, wait, I so didn’t come up with that. I first heard that from John.” I think of the hatred one often sees directed towards individuals who are homeless by people who don’t know them and have not had personal relationships with them, except perhaps to pass them on the street. There are strong examples of this prejudice in comments on public blogs.
When I get frustrated with this irrational hatred and become angered by it, I will sometimes stop and think, “But such hatred is in itself a particular kind of poverty.” And then… “Wait, I first heard that idea from John.” I shared this concept with a friend, LeAnne, by e-mail this week when we were both riled up about something unjustly written about our homeless friends, and she got it right away, writing back, “…you’re right. How awful to have to live that way.”
Here’s part of an e-mail I received from John this week.
I guess some people judge the community by different perspectives, and particularly when the economic environment is so troublesome, I think people fear for their own survival. When they do so, helping others becomes a luxury that can be left behind. Prioritizing during crisis makes sense.
I think the city has to come up with a way to understand the humanity of the homeless in a way that will help the rest of us see how we are better together than apart. Unless you meet the homeless and talk to them, it’s hard to see what we have to gain from knowing them and living with them. Knowing them as the other, they can be caricatured and dispensed with. We do it with so many people…”
To me, this e-mail goes to the heart of the matter. So often, our hearts and minds are changed dramatically when we meet homeless individuals, talk to them, and find out that they are…