I arrived shortly before the café opened and waited comfortably in my car. Heated leather seats and surfing the internet were a distinction between me and the man I noticed by the entrance. Admittedly, I hoped he would leave before the doors opened so I wouldn’t have to interact with him.
I shoved a ten-dollar bill into my front pocket as I got out of my car and walked towards the doors. He was still there everything he owned rested at his feet as he counted money on top of the trashcan.
“Do you have forty cents?”
I’ve been told to never give money to homeless people.
I’ve been told to not buy food for the homeless.
I’ve been told I’m perpetuating a problem by naïve charity.
“What do you need forty cents for?” I asked noticing the three dollars and change he was counting.
“I just want a cup of coffee.”
I knew he had enough. I knew McDonald’s was near and he could afford more than a cup of coffee there, but I know that feeling in my heart and I’ve learned to trust when God calls.
“How about I buy you a cup of coffee?”
He paused, processing, “okay.”
His name is Bryan, just like my brother who invited a homeless man to sleep on his couch on a stormy night years ago while living in the mountains.
It took a moment to enter the first set of doors as he decided what to do with his possessions.
Sandwiched between customers I could feel the discomfort from the middle-aged man behind me. He made me more uncomfortable than the homeless man by my side.
The manager passed by. I smiled and said my usual hello but wondered if he was upset that I brought this man into his café. He passed on and the cashier cheerfully took our order while the man behind brooded.
We don’t like people messing up the perfect environments we create and I was clearly messing up the cute café. Justin Keller, a start-up CEO in San Francisco recently wrote “Open Letter to SF Mayor Ed Lee and Greg Suhr (Police Chief)” declaring,
“The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they come visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place.”
My heart broke when I read Keller’s words. Admittedly, while walking through San Francisco some of the homeless have frightened me, but still, my heart breaks. These people viewed as animals or blight; a nuisance on a good day. But these people are sons, daughters, siblings and fellow human beings. These wounded hearts, some because of bad choices, some because nobody taught them how to handle failure are important.
I happened to read Keller’s article after I read Caris Adel’s article “Icons of Dehumanization: Then and Now” where she contemplates historical dehumanization and how empires use fear to manipulate civilians.
“…they turned people into animals. And how once you have made them not-human, you can justify doing anything to them…You know what’s a lot quicker and easier? Standing up at a podium, yelling about building walls and deportations, criminalizing entire countries and groups of people based on the color of their skin, their language, or their religion.”
I read both articles as my stereotypical family drove home from vacationing in Northern California. While there we visited Fort Humbolt where I read the devastating words “exterminate the Indians” to my children at Fort Humbolt. Did I read that sign correctly? I stared, frozen at the words. Frozen by Keller’s current words.
What have we learned? That those with money and clout can decide which lives are of value? The moment we lose humility and understanding that every life vulnerable we continue history’s brutal story.
Unsure of Bryan’s beliefs I told him how important and valuable he is. Yes, this man living on the streets missing a few teeth is as important as you and me. Not because I said so, but God proclaims it. We are all created equally in God’s image.
Talking with various homeless men I’ve found a common thread and Bryan’s fit the stereotype. “I had a job and a house. Then I had an accident, got into drugs and lost it all.”
A single accident completely changed his life. It’s common. No level of education or hard work can prevent the unexpected. It doesn’t take a physical accident to spiral down quickly. Depressed and discouraged rebounding is difficult. Few bank accounts are padded for an economy tanking or and industry collapsing. In our world of superficial, not many have deep-rooted support systems that can offer sustained help through difficult times emotionally, physically or financially.
Bryan asked for my number, “Can I call you?” I hesitated and declined.
“I don’t think my husband would appreciate that.” He laughed. He hadn’t noticed my simple understated wedding band I’ve been wearing since I broke the band on my engagement ring. Then he asked a difficult question, “Do you have an easy life?” implying being married and having a family was “easy”.
It’s certainly not the hard life of getting beat up on the streets, wondering where to lay my head each night or where the next morsel will come from, but I answered, “I do.”
He agreed and added, “You have the harder life. I get to wake up and do what I want. Nobody tells me what to do, not even the police.”
Inner prayerful pause.
“I have a hard life because what I choose to do is hard. What I write about is difficult, it costs me (to remember the past and face inner struggles) but I see it encouraging others and renewing hope. It’s hard following God, but it’s good. Hard isn’t always bad.”
Jesus says following Him is a certain hard life. As hard as circumstances vary, the hard life Jesus refers to doesn’t mean you’re living on the streets or paycheck to paycheck. Jesus is referring to the difficulties that come when we surrender our hearts and yield our time, attention and aspirations for His glory. Are you living the hard life?