Buying a homeless man a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning, a strange guilt came upon me…
Last spring I ran (if you can call it that) my first half marathon. Let’s just say I did what I set out to do: finish. An overwhelming sense of entitlement came with crossing this off my bucket list. Determination to continue to wake for early morning workouts faded fast. Suffice to say with all the holidays behind us, my fitness level needs tending.
Day two of the fit resolution, I found the newfangled TRX workout was more than sculpting my curves and decided (since I’m not a soldier or professional athlete) to quit halfway through the class. The perfectionist in me screamed, but it felt good giving a voice to my body.
The quiet of the morning still before me, I headed to do what I love: Write in solitude away from the distraction children and chores usher in. But there was a distraction, guilt.
The scruffy man in his puffy jacket and beanie was visible when I whisked into the parking slot just outside the entrance of the café.
Commonly approached by panhandlers I was certain I’d be approached. Living in a community that happens to be the dumping ground for San Francisco’s struggling, being approached by panhandlers is common and I was certain I’d be approached.
Think on that. Someone decided these people were unfit to be within the perimeter of one of the countries most “accepting” cities and gave them a one-way bus pass and false hope of finding a job. You can imagine that my community isn’t thrilled about this arrangement as we lack adequate means of aiding and supporting these people.
There was Fred, weather-worn face and crooked smile asking me if I would please buy him a cup of coffee on this brisk morning.
With an honest smile, I obliged.
As I carried the steaming cup of coffee to this man, guilt settled over me.
Maybe it was guilt because I’m a law-abiding citizen and the voice of an annoyed police officer pinged in my ears.
While buying a warm meal for a needy man at a local food establishment the police were called. My family spoke with the officer that made it clear, “People like you are perpetuating the problem by helping these people.” According to the police officer and many annoyed community members, the best kindness towards these “dangerous”, smelly, germy people is demonstrated in a tough love approach.
Maybe it’s because I’m working out to “stay fit” while people like this man are living in a first world country hand to mouth surviving.
Maybe it’s because I know fully that every material possession I have can be stripped away in the blink of an eye.
Can we ever forget the economic collapse of 2008? Consider your savings account, debt and assets. What would you do if your income was cut off today? What would you do if you were struggling to feed your family after all the bills were paid and there wasn’t money enough for food?
We’ve become a cynical hypo-society.
Germs are evil and everywhere you look, painstaking measures are taken to eradicate contact with someone else’s germs. Anything we perceive as a threat to our way of life, opposing views, germs, political positions….we actively work to extinguish. We doubt the integrity of those asking for assistance, and miss opportunities to help. Barricading ourselves from people and ideas means closing the doors on growth and missed opportunities.
Maybe I feel guilty because of my internal battle.
My heart is big enough and desires to help the needy, but I’m angry with the choices people make that lead a community down a rough road. Leaving the café I stopped and spoke with Fred, the homeless man. His story of living on the streets eight years ago began with a skiing accident that opened the door to pain pills. He didn’t lie about his struggle with opiates or how free he feels living on the streets without the stresses most of us face. His stresses are different, but manageable to him.
My internal conflict brews as I grapple with the police officer’s words wondering if I am perpetuating a problem. Maybe some people don’t want the type of help I think they need or should have.
I said goodbye to Fred, his blue eyes resembling my brothers now barely visible under his beanie. His heartfelt gratitude for acknowledging his presence, speaking with him and buying a cup of coffee pricked my heart.
Looking over the hood of my comfortable car I reply, “You’re not invisible” and head home for a warm shower, freshly laundered clothes, a nurturing breakfast and time with my family.
There’s no reconciling my inward battle, but I know Christ meets me in the thick of my mess and I’ll continue to buy that hot coffee or meal when I know I’m suppose to- guilt free. My hope in those small acts, that as many meals as it takes from a myriad of people, a heart would be touched by the living hope anyone can have in Christ.
Will you buy that cup of coffee when the moment comes?