this past sunday night was an unseasonably warm evening in grand rapids and my wife and i decided to take advantage of it. i mean, it’s december and it’s michigan so if you aren’t taking advantage of near sixty degree weather on a weekend, well… that’s between you and God i guess.
anyway, after enjoying some great pizza (the two of us basically ate the whole thing in one sitting) from this little pizza shop around the corner, we started our short walk back to our home in heritage hill. as a backdrop, you have to understand this neighborhood in grand rapids. like most cities, if you go a mile or two in any direction, the demographics can change mightily. where we live, as the name heritage hill suggests, are a lot of historic homes from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. this region of the city is home to any of the following: homeless people, hippies, “scene kids” (or better… kids who don’t like to shower, “shotgun” cases of pbr at parties where everyone is wearing tight black skinny jeans or plaid shirts that literally haven’t been washed since 1984), businessmen and women and a whole lot of college students.
so now you have a little visual of the setting.
as we walked, a man shouted towards us… “hey guys wait, wait guys!” repeatedly. he was holding up something that turned out to be his wallet but in the darkness of the evening it was hard to tell. my wife and i were both a little unsure of the situation so we continued walking while turning back to see what the man wanted. He told us “i have my id i can show you! here is my id! here is my id!” trying to prove that he was legitimate. obviously in my skeptical brain, i knew i didn’t want anything to do with the man and told him that i had nothing for him. after i had repeated that i did have any money to give him, which he said he needed for food, he slumped a bit and turned back around and wandered off.
we kept walking and discussed what happened and once we turned the corner, we had changed topics and went on with our evening… except that the encounter stayed with me the rest of the night.
i couldn’t help but wonder what i could have given him. we all have had this type of conversation with someone. probably many times.
what do you do in this situation? what is the proper protocol? are we supposed to do what i did, which was nothing? should i have given him our last slice of pizza and called it good so i could feel good that i was feeding the people on the streets?
i guess i was struck by the thought that even if i had given the man money or food or literally the shirt off my back, it wouldn’t have been good enough. i mean, what are we really looking for in life? sure, there are the physical things: food, water(beer) and staying warm. but is it that we really want? i couldn’t help but think, “i should have just talked to him like a human being, asked him his story.” i’m sure he has a story. we all do. i’m guessing that he would have thought that i was weird at first, but why? probably because most people don’t take the time to ask about him. you know how it is, when you ask someone “how are you?”, you don’t truly want to know how they are. in fact, i bet most people would roll their eyes and keep looking at the time on their phone or take a fake phone call to get out of the “conversation” if the person actually started telling them just how they were.
my overall thought came down to this, what do we really value in life? do we look out for others? do we put the onus on the homeless (“go out and get a job!”, “do something for yourself”, “have some self-respect!”)? what are we really here for?
it can be easy to make a pledge to feed the hungry, give those who are thirsty something to drink and find them somewhere to stay when it is cold outside. but is that enough? i don’t ask this as a challenge. i’m asking this because i’m not good in this situation. i want to run the other direction most times. i just know that that is not the answer. i just am pretty certain that just going about doing good deeds so that i can pat myself on the back won’t make me care about anyone any more than me turning my back and walking the opposite direction. if all i am concerned about is making sure i feel like i have personally accomplished something for someone else, have i really done anything at all? is that all we are here for?