Alex and I had a date last night. At 4:30 we all loaded into the van and went down to the university to meet Christian, who took the younger three (even the baby!) back home so the two of us could have some quality time with several hundred other people crowded onto a rooftop with telescopes and cool crazy glasses that let you look directly at the sun.
Our only job was to stop to pick up pictures before we came home–a job easier said than accomplished, as I had never actually been in this particular camera store and I didn’t know exactly where it was. It took ten minutes of circling blocks to find it, and we had to park two blocks away and walk. As we rounded the corner, I vaguely noticed two men crouched in the shade at the corner. I thought they were homeless.
We picked up our pictures and started back toward the car. I tried to inspect the men without being obvious. They sort of looked homeless, but they didn’t have the signs, the backpacks, the signs that would make them unmistakable. Besides, I had no cash on me at all–well, I had about three pennies in my wallet. Besides, Alex and I were talking about astronomical stuff. I was halfway down the block before it occurred to me that the men were sitting across the street from Panera. How hard would it have been to run inside and grab a couple sandwiches for them?
I very nearly stopped, turned around, went back. Visions of Matthew 25 flashed before me. But my inhibitions took off, swirling like a circle of bats. What if the men weren’t homeless after all, and I insulted them by asking? Besides, Michael had been crabby when I left him with Christian, and it had been almost two and a half hours since he’d nursed.
You will perhaps not be surprised to know that I neither stopped nor talked to Alex about them. We just came home.
I begin to despair of ever reaching peace with how to interact with the poor among us–what is truly the Christlike way of treating the homeless. I’m really trying to live my faith by simply doing things in the presence of my children, and not always talking about it. Two weeks ago, for example, we were flying from piano lesson to baseball game and stopped by HyVee for salads and chicken fingers for dinner. I splurged on two crab rangoon, and as we sat at the stoplight off the interstate, I saw a young man sitting in the corner. I couldn’t give him much of our food without making someone else go hungry, but I called him over and gave him my crab rangoon as the light turned green.
In an earlier stage of my life, I kept peanut butter, plastic silverware and packages of crackers in the car so I could hand them out to people begging at intersections. But I haven’t done that in a long time. We take food to the homeless shelter a couple times a year. It’s something, I suppose. It just doesn’t seem like enough.
I suppose I’m grateful that they’re there, like a thorn in my side, popping my bubble of self-righteousness before it gets too bloated. Keeping me aware not only of the suffering of the world, but of my own weaknesses.