When I lived in Washington D. C., Seattle, and London, one of the most heart-breaking things I had to deal with was walking past homeless people every day with no real way to change their lives. I could hand them a few dollars or take them a cup of coffee or a burger from the joint on the corner, but I couldn’t give them a job or a place to live or fix their emotional issues that kept them broken. It upset me on a daily basis.
I was young and idealistic and wanted everything to be perfect in the world. Homeless people didn’t fit my image of life in this wide wide world. Between my frustration and pain of not being able to help and, having no view of the night stars, I ran from city life back to my rural upbringing.
But that didn’t end the homeless issue that made my heart heavy. Instead I started seeing them even in my rural home state … standing at intersections on the highway, in front of gas stations and quick-marts, sleeping behind the grocery store.
The other night my daughter and I stopped to buy gas on the highway and there was a guy huddled in front of the store with a sign asking for money to get a hotel room next door. It was cold, below freezing cold. I only had a few dollars in my pocket but I gave it to him and returned to my car wishing I could have done more. I’m no fool in my “older” age. I know he might have had ulterior motives for buying drugs or booze or gambling it away … but mine isn’t the place to judge.
So I sat in my car while it filled with gas and watched the man pet his dog and eat a candy bar, and three other people handed the man money as well. It made me smile that people were being generous and gave me a thought. What if there is a thing known as collective compassion? Where everyone doing their own thing, where every act each of us do day in and day out, all put together became a single act of compassion for another person?
I don’t know if the man got a hotel room or not that night, but the compassion I saw people give for a stranger gave me hope that this world isn’t as bad as the media would have us believe.