“I guess you’re right,” he said, as she wrapped a scarf around him. “You just get so used to being cold that you forget.”
My heart broke, crying out in pain for another human being. How could we do this to our fellow man? To those who are more genetically similar to us than flies are to each other? These people are our kin.
There we were lined along the donations, over looking the Mississippi and downtown St. Paul. Volunteers on one side and homeless on the other. The street lamps illuminated the stark contrasts; homeless vs non-homeless, brown skin vs white.
We stood around, milling, waiting for someone to need us. To serve them hot food and drinks, to wrap them in clothing, to speak to them. Anything to try to right the wrong society had served to them.
“You said there is a shelter,” she asked me. She was new not only to the organization, but to the United States itself. “But where do they go when that’s not open?” The answer caught in my throat a moment. Partially taken aback by her naiveté.
“No where,” I said. “They’re just trying not to die. They can’t get too cold can’t get wet, can’t get sick, can’t skip too many meals. They’re just trying to survive.” Then silence was stuffed like cotton between us.
To be homeless is more than barely making ends meet. The task at hand, is literally, to not die. And it’s easy to forget that we still have dignity in the face of that enormous task. To desire something a small as “a sports team hat” or “with a pretty pattern”. I understand. I too have sighed and thrown out moldy bread that was donated to me, or refused pants that smelled like pee. It’s the tinniest of gestures that get us through our darkest times.
I believe the lesson that matters here is that we are all brothers. We are all in this together, no matter the underlying problem. And, sometimes, it’s easier to help the unknown stranger than it is to confront our own festering wounds.
If you would like to help the homeless in MN, please donate to Walking with a Purpose.