Last night Kristin and I stopped on the way home at Wendy's to pick up a quick, cheap, bite for dinner. While a lady at the register struggled to get the cashier to understand which of her four gift-cards she wanted to use certain amounts on for this one transaction, there was one man in front of us in line. He was careful to stand very far back from the lady in front of him in the cattle herding-esque ropes, so we stayed a little back to give him the space he was obviously trying to keep.
It took a few moments for me to recognize the situation. I've seen it before. He was homeless. Aware of the way he smelled, he was trying to keep his distance from those around him. Either out of embarrassment or to avoid offending. Having been homeless for a short period in my life I remember such trials well. There are some things you never forget. Some, many, things that you shouldn't.
I watched as he struggled to find change to go along with the crumbled dollar he pulled from his worn and torn leather wallet. When the gift-card lady finally finished her little dance with the cashier he stepped forward and meekly ordered two baked potatoes with chives off of the 99 cent value menu. He gently placed the change and bill into the cashiers hand, then stood and waited for his order.
All this played out in front of me like a short Hallmark movie. I watched quietly... and did nothing.
Later, as we ate, I burdened Kristin with my regrets and thoughts. How could I have stood there and not offered to buy him a meal? How could I not have spoken to him? I just stood there.
I don't know if I was afraid. Sometimes I'm plagued by memories of where I've been and fears of going back. Fear would be an easy excuse.
Whatever my reason, or lack of, I don't really have any excuse. As someone who believes that the words of Jesus are true and claims to try and live his life by those words I should have known better. I should have responded to the suffering of this person in front of me.
I guess this is just my confession. It's not my penance. I'm working on that. I'm trying to figure out how to resolve this issue so that it doesn't happen again. So that I never again just watch as someone suffers.
" 'I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.
Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.' "
(c) The Message , Eugene H. Peterson