Monday, May 9, 2016

On Compassion - The Homeless Heart

On my drive home, there are a number of people panhandling.  I have learned to recognize the signs of "I'm just scamming for money", $300 shoes and one young lady, dressed in practically rags but sporting a VERY recent and intricate hair highlighting job, that I know costs close $200 to get done, even though it looked like she washed her hair with vegetable oil. And look, you have a new smart phone!  Then there is the young man that just looks hungry until you note how small his pupils are, looking for his next high. Sometimes you see someone that has that slightly unhinged look in eyes or actions that makes me make sure I avoid eye contact as I ensure my doors are locked, not wishing to put myself in the point blank range of mentally unstable rage.

But once in a while, I see something in the eyes of one of them, noting hands calloused by years of hard work, and realize that whether they are truly homeless or not,  they are needing something more than cash, an uplifting of the spirit. So on those occasions I will roll down the window and put out a couple of bucks, but most importantly, I will look them in the eye and treat them with the respect of a kind word as I let them know I care and God loves them. I've seen one of them with tears in their eyes, an older black man with a straight back and hands curled by arthritis, simply because I give him a fairly large and crisp bill, called him Sir and wished him God's blessings for a comfortable night of rest.
Sure, maybe I'm just being played, but I'd rather make the occasional attempt then leave them alone as they sift through the ghosts of past riches, coming up with empty hands.  I've been where I had only the clothes on my back and enough gas to make an escape.  The particulars aren't important but the lessons learned all.  Almost all of us are one illness, one bad decision or  bad action of man or nature from losing all we have.

It is then you realize how very precious the smallest of things are, how the most ordinary of things, the simplest of possessions can contain the deep, profound integrity of a work of art. You also realize that you can't hold onto something so hard, so afraid of losing it, that your efforts only fracture what once was whole. I look at some butterflies from Africa under glass, the one thing I wanted from my Aunt's house when she died and her things were divided up among all the family. Such frail and beautiful wings that almost look like they would flutter with life if I were to softly blow my breath on them. Yet it would only take one accidental drop off the table, to destroy them forever, wings tearing from glass that cuts as cleanly as tears.
In our Village there is this very elderly gentleman, stooped with pain, barely able to walk. His tidy home has a wheelchair ramp, for a departed spouse or himself, I do not know. He walks with great difficulty as if the movement is foreign to him.  Yet, each day he takes out his little dog for a walk, likely his only companion as I've never seen him with any family member. Holding a leash in one hand and a cane in another, he passes by, indistinctly and quietly as shadow, yet with movements that are precise with pain, as his little dog hovers with glee over invisible things in a carpet of grass. When we first passed and I looked at his face, I expected his countenance to reflect the hampered efforts of a hampered body, pain in his eyes and defeat in his form. Instead, I got a happy glint and a smile as he gazed down at his furry best friend, delighting in just being outside in the warm sunshine with his companion, so dearly loved.
Our lives all begin in the same way, in the travail of pain as our mothers birth us, in that first deep cry as we take in the air around us.  From there, the journeys are as different as our fingerprints, on various paths, some strange, some wonderful, some littered with stones that make us bleed. Some don't survive the journey, others find at its end, they hold a single treasured thing, or nothing at all but their labored breathing and their faith.  But each person, each moment is important.

As I drove into the city for work Friday, I see a woman on a corner in designer business clothing, everything about her bright and shining but for her eyes. On another is someone in the faded clothes of a working man, which have seen better days, holding a cardboard sign that says.  Need help. God bles you.  She does everything she can to avoid looking at him, as I hand $5 out the window and receive and honest and grateful thank you. I think of what I saw in their eyes - in hers, fear, in his, truth.

Truth, however painful, like beauty, floats hovers around us, obscured in the silent still waters of a day, waiting for us to stretch out a hand and grab on to it.  As I accelerate away, I see their forms on the sidewalk, joined by others on their way to work, or simply finding their way, looking in the gleaming lights like the slates of a fence, some straight, some bent and damaged, all simply trying to hold something together.
I look out on my rusted old truck, at a strand of white that's appeared in my red hair, at a scar upon my chest that marks the time I escaped a yawning grave with gentle triumph. Others might think it odd that I give money to strangers while driving a 9 year old vehicle that's seen better days. It has nothing to do with income but all to do with how I can live with myself. Like anyone, I've made mistakes, I've hurt others and I've known those truths that are found in a field, arriving with heavy heart, black bag and badge, where nothing is left but crime scene tape and regret. In those truths is the understanding that none of us are immune from failure, lack of empathy or fate, but we are still all capable of reaching out a hand to a soul in need, whatever form they take.  To be ignored is to disappear, to vanish without provoking either mourning or curiosity, a death in and of itself.

The next time I go out for my walk, I'll take some homemade cookies and share with the old man that walks his dog, I will learn his name and I will remember it.  For he understands too, what many of us know, that no matter how much or how little we have, we all want that same thing - to have a place where we are accepted and loved, a place that even the most humble of us deserve to know.

LB Johnson


  1. Lovely post, thank you.

    Wyatt's Mom

  2. Beautiful and enriching. God bless you for writing it and giving your money and heart.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to visit and reply.

  3. Oh My Goodness!! You have stated it so beautifully. Momma had a tear in her eye. Yes, yes indeed all have that beautiful within them, no matter who they are. Sometimes it is forgotten, but when we reach out, when we help, or even the simple act of a smile and a look in the eye can help those around us reclaim the fact that we are beautiful. Thank you for sending note to my momma via our church. You my beautiful friend made her day.

    1. Thank you Buddy - your Mom has helped my Mom with her grief in losing two family members with her wisdom and guided words of the Lord on her blog so I'm glad we could make her day. Abby Lab

  4. Replies
    1. Hugs to you and smoochies to my Frankie.

  5. Wonderful post. Sometimes it is hard to figure out how to properly respond.

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  6. Beautifully written and a beautiful message.

  7. So thought provoking.
    I to look into their eyes and say
    There for the Grace of God Go I.
    Thank you for reminding us we all need a hand.

  8. I like this ideas with the cookies... and it is great that you don't look away when you see the people who need our help. I like it to help, because then I feel better somehow too.


Welcome to The Book of Barkley and the Blogville dog blogging community. This blog was created for more memories of Barkley as well as updates on Abby the Senior rescue Lab, who we adopted in 2014.

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