Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I saw a homeless man today

I saw a homeless man today.

To have the homeless in my view, to pass by or be aware of a man or woman nearby is not unusual or earth shattering.

But I saw a homeless man today. And I flinched.

Perhaps because he was in "my way"...crossing an intersection where I wanted to steer my car, to get to my parking garage, to go to my job. And so I was forced to stop -- and see him.

He was walked slowly. It took him quite some time to cross the street, burdened with  the multiple bags and accessories that contained his life.

I saw that both of his legs were heavily bandaged along the shins...clean white bandages that looked freshly applied. Large bandages that covered a wide swath. He looked in pain. I wondered then if he had just been released from Grady hospital or some other medical facility, seeking an isolated corner of this crowded, dirty and dust filled street to heal.

Did he hear the cars behind me honking, urging me to make the turn and keep on moving? I doubt it. His world seemed complete in its full absorption of the task before him: to keep moving his legs and life forward.

Did he know that I was there seated in the cool leather surroundings of my car? Did he see me, beyond the vague and noncommital awareness that I would have had of him had I not needed to stop?  His eyes remained downcast and his frown creased; he never looked up.

Did he suspect we might see in one another pain or shame or disgust or aggravation?

He didn't give me the escape of assuaging my guilt by proudly -- yet carefully -- handing him a dollar...or five if I was feeling generous. I wondered if he might relish this opportunity to stop traffic, for this moment at least to be the one in control of the circumstances. 

To be seen.

I saw a homeless man today and I realized, once again, that in I am missing something fundamental. That my gifts to the shelters and contributions to church are all really nice but will never be enough. 

Not until he can see me. And I can see him. 

Without a flinch.

On Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 4:23 PM, Lesley Grady <> wrote:

Shameless, I know. Stolen from the creed that attention trumps all. Borrowed but not adherent to the name of a trilogy of novels that are currently popular. And, for all who might not be in the know", I'm confident you'll be Googling in the next 10 minutes…

But give me that long to make my case. In full disclosure, I have not read these books myself. And, from my limed knowledge, the topic of this essay is as far apart from the topic of the novels as is possible. Yet the distinction in title and meaning is all too real: Giving is the topic of this missive as it is always the theme for the season. 

Toys for toddlers; food for the hungry; blankets for those who are cold.  Wonderful giving that is encouraged and characterized by our natural and instinctive charitable impulse and responsiveness.

There are those who suggest that it is also characterized by guilt; critics who proffer that increased giving during this time is self-centered and contrived. That both our impulse to give and our gifts are more a balm to guilty consciences about personal consumption than a desire to help others. That our receptivity to appeals during the holidays "count less". 

Don't buy it.  Assistance between November and December is just as important as it is between January and October. And savvy nonprofits know this too. Just like shelters stock up on blankets in the fall and schools ramp up for summer programs in the spring, savvy nonprofit leaders understand and prepare for the market and make a big deal of holiday giving. And the smartest ones take the long view – and the accompanying responsibility – of being grateful for the now and diligently cultivating for the future. 

As grownups, we know that people eat all year long. That kids need care. That the environment and politicians need to be monitored. But if it's cold, and dark, and we know folks are feeling even more alone and lacking, it's more than right to respond.  It's essential. Because conscience is the impetus honed from our earliest years to be the motivator for good and healthy action.

It is a good act to balance for ourselves and our families the joy of receiving with the act of giving. There's much to celebrate and many reasons to give! At least fifty or so… J

Give, because giving



Most of all, give because giving is philanthropy in action…momentum that transforms each of us into instruments of change.

Through all the seasons.

Happy Holidays!