Earlier this week, my husband finished painting over our green walls in our old apartment while I sat back and watched/took photos like any helping wife. After we were done, we walked into the storage area to make sure our storage was completely cleared out. (Yes, we had stuff in storage: holiday boxes and patio/gardening supplies.) The locked storage units are located in an unlocked room across the hall. We walked in at, flicked on the lights, and startled a young man that was in the room. He was wearing a black t-shirt, baggy pants, and standing near a sleeping bag and pillow on the floor. We were shocked and confused, so we checked our storage, mumbled some apologies, and left the room. On our way home, my husband suggested that he was homeless. It hadn’t crossed my mind — I assumed his girlfriend kicked him out of an apartment or something like that. At that point, I wondered aloud, “Why didn’t we ask him if he needed anything? We should have said something to him.” We didn’t go back to check on him and I forgot about him until this morning.
On my way to work today, I noticed a similar-looking man sitting on a sleeping bag under an overpass. I immediately thought of the guy in the storage unit — I’m pretty sure it was the same person. I don’t know if it was, but it made me consider my actions. Or rather, my lack of actions.
Why didn’t we ask him if he needed anything? Why didn’t we find out his story? Offer him some water? Food? Possibly offer our empty apartment to him for one night? Why didn’t we do something? Just for a few moments. Was that the same person? Where would he be today if we said something to him? Why did we just walk away? Since when am I the kind of person to walk away? I was mentally kicking myself for not doing anything.
So, in my car, I prayed for him. I prayed that he would find a comfortable place to sleep. I prayed for a chance to see him again so I could say something to him. I prayed for someone to help him. As expected, I didn’t see him under the overpass on my way home. Maybe I’ll see him again, maybe I won’t.
I know that he is just one of thousands of homeless people across the United States. I know that I can’t help everyone. But I can help one. And another. And another. Possibly another. Somehow. And each life will be changed, even if just for a moment. Every action is powerful.
I am writing this for myself and for you. Next time you come across someone with a little longing in their eyes, a story they want to share, or someone on a park bench with all their belongings — stop. Say hello. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them if they need anything. Do something. Don’t walk away like I did.
January has proven to be a very inspiring month at my church. Yesterday’s message was no different as we enjoyed beautiful music and listened to our lead pastor talk about how much it breaks his heart that he and so many others were ignorant about the hate in this world.
What do you think when you see a group of teenagers with neon-colored hair? Or an obese woman standing at the bus stop? Or a Hindu couple at the store dressed in traditional garb? Or that quiet kid with the glasses in the corner of the library? I bet you have an automatic label or bias as to who you think these people are. You might judge. You might turn your nose up at them. But what if I told you the teens were part of a youth group from the local church out on a service project? Or that obese woman was starting her third work shift of the day to support her four kids after their father died of cancer? And that Hindu couple? Founders of an orphanage in a developing country. The quiet kid just got out of jail for protesting. Have your thoughts changed? Funny how that works.
That is how our minds tend to work. We have this unconscious bias towards others and act upon them without realizing it. On top of that, people look at us differently than we see ourselves. We are being judged just as much. This is where pain comes from. This is where hate begins. This is where ugliness grows. This is where violence erupts. Where does it end?
I love you. I love you regardless of your skin color. Your sexual orientation does not matter to me. I don’t care what kind of food you eat. I love you regardless of the mistakes you’ve made in the past. I love you even though you’re a fan of the other sports team. I love you whether or not you have anything in your bank account. I don’t care what your IQ is. I don’t care that you have no legs. I love you even though we listen to different music. Why should we dislike each other because of some stupid labels or appearance or interests? Why should we hate each other just because we are simply human? Because that is all that we are — human. Simply human. We have more in common than you know. My heart breaks so much for all the people that feel unwelcome and unloved My heart breaks for the people who cause others to feel that way. No one should ever feel judged or have so much pain inside that they inflict pain upon others. There is no room for hate in my heart. I love you.
Doing nothing isn’t an option anymore. What are you going to do about the ugliness in this world? Please. Do yourself a favor. Change the world with your small actions. Speak life-giving words. Remove prejudice from your heart. Remind others how beautiful they are. Thank someone for their kindness. Comfort the stranger with tears. Take the time to listen to someone’s story. Share your smile. Show the world how much you love her. Be. A. Light.