Archive for February, 2011

But for the Grace of God


This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, which may seem off topic, but since I’m studying Buddhism I will tag it under compassion.   But it really came to a head today.

I don’t know why, but I was thinking again about homeless people as I was driving to the gas station from work.  It really bothers me that we have homeless people in my town now.  And it bothers me that it doesn’t seem to bother other people. 

I’ve been told one of them, who has been here for years, is homeless by choice, and his parents live here.  I call him the “Can Man” because he pushes a big cart around and does dumpster diving.  He apparently has a routine, because I’ve seen him several mornings in the dumpster behind a motel or crossing the main street in front of it.  His hair is gray now, but what concerns me is he appears to be dressed  in shorts and/or pajamas.  We just had several days and nights with the coldest temperatures on record.

But for a while now we have had apparently homeless people standing at the end of one of our shopping centers.  And more often than not, they have dogs with them.  It isn’t easy for me to confess that I have wondered if they have dogs because they get more money with them, and that I have asked myself if I am more concerned for the dogs than the people.

We do have homeless shelters; there’s one down the street from me.  But I’m sure it doesn’t take dogs, even though it is in a former veterinary clinic.  I don’t mind giving people money, but I do worry about my safety. 

Tonight as I was at the stoplight before the gas station, I saw two police cars there.  I decided not to go there, although I’m sure there might just have been a car scraping another.  But when I went to the other gas station, a man came up to me and said “Sorry for startling you.  Do you have $3 to help me out?”  I said, “Sorry, no,” and he said  “Thank you” and walked across the street, past the McDonalds, probably to stand on the corner of the shopping center.

I thought about him when I got home.  Would he go hungry?  It’s supposed to be 31 degrees tonight.  I hate that my fear may have caused another human being to suffer.

The cynical probably say that every homeless person is by choice.  But I remember reading about President Lyndon Johnson making a comment to one of his staff or aides about a homeless person.  The associate said something like, all it takes is one thing to go wrong, and that person could be you or me.  It could be loss of a job, a car accident, or a serious illness.

I’m going to call the homeless shelter down the street and ask if they do take pets.    If they do, maybe I’ll make some little sheets with directions to the shelter.  I’m going to ask what I can do to help.

When we used to go down to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, we passed through the city of Hermosilla.  At the stoplights, children would ask if they could clean your windshield for a dollar.  My brother-in-law said not to give it to them because that was only making them continue to beg.  But a dollar to them meant a whole lot more than it did to me.


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