It all started back last August. I signed up for a one day conference downtown. Before leaving the house I decided to greet each homeless person that came to me with a smile and if they asked for money that I would give them some.
I know... doesn't sound like much, but for me it really is. A chance to put my faith into action. No my religious faith so much as it is my faith in the notion that what a person does with his or her gift doesn't matter... it is the process of giving that transforms.
You see, after years working with mentally ill and/or substance abusing men and women, I know all too well that it just takes a few dollars to purchase things one really shouldn't purchase. In the past, I have given people money with the admonishment not to buy drugs or alcohol. Lets face it, I was doing that to really squelch my fears rather than out of any heartfelt caring for the person to whom I was giving the money.
On that fateful day in August, a gentleman sat near the train station entrance with a sign reading, "I'm homeless and hungry." So I stopped that day, said hello, asked the gentleman his name and where he was from. He looked at me a little startled, but answered my questions - I suppose he was expecting me to haul him to the local shelter. I then gave him a few dollars. He then quickly told me that he was going in to the nearest fast food restaurant and going to get him something to eat. It was then that I told him that the money was a gift... mostly from me, but perhaps from God and for him to use the money however he thought best. He reassured me that he was going to get something to eat.
OK - you know... I don't know what that man did with the few dollars I gave him. I don't know that what I said changed anything for him. However, for that one moment in the day, he was a homeless and hungry person with a name and I hope that for a moment he didn't feel invisible.
To me, he changed how I saw things. When I asked him his name and where he was from, I realized that I asked him to join me in a space where we were both human beings. Previously, I had always greeted people asking for money with an admonition - mostly due to my own desire to keep them at a distance. Now, homelessness and hunger have a name, a face, and a hometown.
So out here in the burbs, I really don't get to see too many people asking for money. Yes, there are homeless people and there certainly are hungry people, but the keep to themselves. However, thanks to my August experience, I decided that I would continue to push through my neurosis and control structure to see what else I could learn and how the gift could transform me.
My first real test was Friday. I saw a fellow on the off ramp to the Airport exit. He was asking for money. I pulled a few dollars out, rolled down my window and offered it to the gentleman. His name was Terrence and he was from Ohio.