I looked up and there she was. I was waiting for my big breakfast egg scramble at an outdoor café, excited that I was feeling energetic and had an appetite. I had walked from my apartment to my favorite breakfast place to eat and work on my latest blog.
I was finishing my blog post on body image as I waited to be served my breakfast. As she sat at an empty table I could feel her eyes on me. My initial knee jerk response was not to make eye contact. I sensed she would approach me for something maybe just conversation but I had my own agenda and it didn’t include a long conversation with anyone. I couldn’t resist so I quickly looked up and then returned my focus back to the lap top faster than I could say egg scramble. Not sure but I thought we had actually met before in front of a laundry mat (a real talker – it takes one to know one) but I doubted she remembered me. She hangs out a lot on the street looking for approachable faces. Now, if this wasn’t bad enough on my part here’s where it gets really down and low. How I was behaving was a violation of one of my own recently acquired rules since becoming a city dweller. The rule: make sure eye contact is made and at least a few words are spoken to someone pan handling when responding to their request. Why? A few years ago while walking the streets of Jerusalem I was reminded out of nowhere that people who panhandler or those sitting against walls with blankets and change cups in tow were human beings, made in God’s image and deserving of dignity. Furthermore, they were once children who didn’t have the ambition to become homeless or a pan handler when they grew up. Like me and you and all 6 year olds they couldn’t conceive a future, regardless of how bad their childhood was, that excluded a dream of being a firefighter, teacher, nurse, shopkeeper, or professional basketball player. I doubt that any of these adults on the street said to themselves at 6-years old, “When I grow up I hope to wear tattered clothes, be alone and ask people for money as my daily routine.” So, from that time on I determined that I wouldn’t just place money in a bag or hand without making eye contact and saying something. It’s not as easy as you would think. Folks experiencing homelessness are accustomed to thinking of themselves as nobodies. They know we are uncomfortable with their circumstances and they are counting on us to relieve a little of our own guilt. Just drop it in or hand it out and keep moving; that’s all that is expected in this street drama of the haves and the have not’s.
Well, back to me – My breakfast came and I don’t know if was the size of it or the presentation of it; but staring at it I was immediately overwhelmed by my privilege and plenty. I then knew what I wanted to do and it wasn’t out of guilt. I wanted to invite her to join me and share my breakfast or order her own. I looked up. She was gone. I waited hoping she would return but she didn’t. I finally ate disappointed and a little dejected for a missed opportunity for both of us. Interesting that I felt disappointed and dejected; emotions that are likely standard fare for my would-be eating partner.
For parents, grandparents or anyone who have opportunity to influence children for goodness and kindness please read the following article: A Mom’s Hope for a Better World. Full of interesting statistics, good insights and practical suggestions, this mom does a great job of looking at the world and ‘bringing it home.’