“Mom, that man is talking to us,” my ten year-old daughter said. It was one of several times in the space of a couple of days that she had pointed out that someone was talking to us, pointed it out because we weren’t responding, pointed it out because we were acting like we didn’t see.
“I know, honey,” I said. I was flustered. We were in the process of squeezing luggage and people into a Lyft driver’s car to head to the airport so we could fly home to our small town, the town my youngest daughter has lived in her whole life, the town where we never see people living on the street, asking for money. The man had wedged himself between us and the car as we moved around, grabbing suitcases and trying to work out where and how everything and everyone would fit. “Can you give me some money so I can eat?” he asked. He was stumbling and bleary-eyed and barely coherent.
“Mom, that man is talking to us.”
“I know honey, but… he is very high right now.”
I’ve been thinking about that response. Other than the fact that it was true, I have no idea why I said it. What did the man being high have to do with anything? Did it make him less hungry? One could argue that he would just take any money that we would have given him and applied it toward his next high, and maybe that would have been true, maybe not.
“He’s very high right now,” I said, as though that explained something, as though it gave me an excuse not to really see him, not to respond to him in some way, not to treat him as the beloved child of God that I believe that he is. That’s what gnaws at my soul. I believe that Jesus loves this man, just like he loves everyone else we saw during our two days in the big city who asked us for money.
Every time I walk by someone on the street asking for money, my soul hurts–whether I actually give them money or not. It bothers me, seeing these broken, hurting people and not doing more. I can volunteer at a soup kitchen, or hand out blankets and pack care packages, etc… and I have done all of these things, although not on a regular basis and I could certainly do much more. What I’ve realized about
human nature myself, though, is that I tend to end up feeling righteous because I care–even when I don’t act on it. Louis C.K. does a fabulous bit on this. He’s talking about how he flies first class and sees soldiers who always fly coach, and how many times he has thought that he should give up his seat to one of the soldiers. It’s worth a watch:
I love Louis C.K. He so often gets to the very heart of what is both ugly and beautiful about being human.
I don’t want to walk by people and pretend that I don’t see them or hear them. I don’t want my little daughter to see me do this. And I don’t want to just enjoy thinking I’m a nice person because I feel bad about it. How do we handle these things, though? It isn’t easy. What do you do?