Today is April 6th, a special day with special meaning for me. I believe in Christ and know that he lives. I want to be like him. I wish to share a recent experience that brought me closer to Christ with the idea that maybe it might be for some substance or meaning to you, even if you don’t believe in Christ.
A couple weeks ago I was in Indiana on business. The week went by quickly as almost every minute of every day and half the night was demanded of us. Late Thursday we were driving through South Bend on I-80 in route to Chicago to catch a red-eye out of O’Hare the next morning. We stopped for some refreshment at the fabled Taco Bell just off Michigan Avenue.
We were both aching for food as we hadn’t had time to eat anything since an early lunch, it was nearly midnight. Just minutes after we received our food, and having the window still rolled down, we were approached by a homeless man.
I have had some experience with the homeless—and I haven’t been as brotherly kind as I ought to have been. I have given of my substance and have left them wanting. I’ve struggled in the past to decide which is appropriate. Do they really need the money? Are they professional beggars? What will they do with the money? Are they really homeless? This one experience helped clarify my confusion. I will leave you to decide for yourself, given the impact, for whatever its worth, of this story.
When approached by homeless, I typically acknowledge their plight and move on without much more than a thought or two. Knowing the great effect eye contact has in creating persuasion, I would try and avoid eye contact altogether. If you look them in the eye, they can catch your attention just long enough to set into their spiel wherein they create an awkward sense of obligation that makes you offer a compensation of some sort. Those on the streets of New York are particularly keen at this.
In the parking lot of Taco Bell, we were approached by a homeless man we later came to know as Willy. He looked much more kempt than most and had a smile on his face. Willy was different, and we quickly came to know just how different he was. His attitude caught me off guard, and succeeded in catching my enough of my attention that I caught his eyes. I said “hi” to Willy with half a soft taco in my mouth—which action was signal enough to encourage him to start his employment.
The painful truth is that my first reaction was to roll my eyes, inwardly, and continue eating my food in front of him, almost as if I invalidated his very existence and didn’t have time to care.
All feeling and empathy in my heart fell head-long into a pile of shame; because for the next 20 minutes we listened to Willy deliver a supremely persuasive and deeply moving speech that could rival Lincoln’s second inaugural address. I ate my thoughts and my initial reaction for dinner and ended up giving him the rest of my soft taco aliment. I couldn’t imagine a more effectually efficient speech, and coming from such an unanticipated source no less. Being familiar with some principles of persuasion and having crafted persuasive speeches myself, I was absolutely dumbfounded at the impact his little ditty made on me. Both my partner and I were literally moved to tears.
He told his story of financial ruin and how anybody’s financial house of cards can be easily and unexpectedly blown to the ground with random gusts of unforeseen wind. He had family in Houston that was well off, but the shame of sharing his dire circumstance has kept him from contacting them. He’d been injured, laid off and now homeless in a matter of three short months… and he’s still injured because he can’t get proper care.
Willy was eloquent. He was real and grammatically correct—even politically correct. He was sincere and obviously educated. His dress was relatively clean and his teeth were white. He was a common stouthearted man fallen upon hard times and there was nothing typical about him.
As he finished, we tried desperately to hide our emotions. That was awkward as there was nowhere to hide them. We got out of the car, talked to Willy, shook his hand, and gave him encouragement along with every last scrap of the gourmet food we had extracted from Taco Bell. He gratefully accepted the food with an even more indebted-like Willy smile. We then took a few minutes and crossed the street to pull some money out of an ATM. By the time we had returned, he had eaten as much of the food as he was going to and saved the rest for his wife who was cooped up in a women’s shelter. We committed Willy to sweep the parking lot at a nearby church, just as he had done many times before for just $4. Our monetary gift was prepayment and deservedly more.
Ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.” (Mosiah 4:16)
Now, I may never know what truth or error was spoken in Willy’s speech or what his reality really was. I may never know if you actually swept that parking lot or not. And verily that’s not the point here. What I can know is that a needy man, who sought for understanding from a man who wouldn’t normally offer understanding, got it loud and clear. My once cold heart turned lukewarm. I understood Willy.
There may be fastidiously irrelevant ethics or politics involved in situations like these, but that’s not the point here either. We can be a little more understanding, a little more caring, a little more like Christ. I can give more than just my substance. I can give my understanding and my care, and “not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)
Willy is someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother. But above all, he is a child of God, just like you and me. What can we cheerfully give?
Think upon that and interpret as you may.