The other day I wheeled down an Interstate off-ramp and stopped at the red light. To my left a man who appeared to be homeless was sitting on a plastic trash bag spread out on the grass beside a street sign. I was close enough to him that I could have reached out of my window and touched his scraggly camouflaged cap.
I say he appeared to be homeless as if I were intimately acquainted with many homeless people. I'm not. But he looked poorly dressed and unkempt. I suspect his leathered face and bushy beard made him look much older than he actually was, Lord.
I caught myself trying really hard NOT to look at him. And it surprised me. I am usually quite comfortable looking people in the face and smiling or nodding recognition. But I was almost afraid to look at him. And it seemed that he was looking right at me almost daring me to turn my head and look him in the eyes. In the split-second I saw him I saw that he had piercing blue-gray eyes. They seemed to look through me.
I sat there looking anywhere but at him for what seemed like an eternity.
Maybe he was intoxicated or under the influence of some narcotic or something. Maybe I was just imagining that he was staring at me. Maybe he was looking beyond me. Maybe he wasn't even seeing me at all.
But I felt that, if I were to really look at him, I couldn't pretend anymore that he wasn't there.
Am I making sense, Lord?
I mean, I couldn't keep living my middle class life, pretending that homelessness doesn't exist all around me.
What did I see in his eyes that made me feel so guilty? That made me instantly struggle with the question, "Should I give this man some money to buy breakfast at the fast-food shop around the corner? Or, would he use that money to buy drugs or booze instead? Would I be helping him, or enabling him?"
In the next instant I thought, "Would giving him $5 even make any difference in his life?"
And now, I keep wondering what I am supposed to do with the memory of this incident, God. What am I supposed to do about the homeless person I encounter tomorrow or next week?
What am I supposed to do about my fellow-man?
What are you supposed to do about your fellow man? You'll never really know the answers to your questions about this particular man, now will you, Little One? Your interaction with him is gone. Past. Done.
But the impact he made on you lingers. That particular person caught you off guard. But the next one won't. You now have time to think the scenario through and come up with answers to your own questions. You have been given an opportunity to make a decision BEFORE the next "homeless person" intersects your life.
I'm giving you a chance here, Little One, to decide ahead of time what you're going to do with the next "fellow man" you encounter.
Run through your options, come up with a plan, then be ready to respond instead of react. Respond to your fellow man, Little One. That's what you need to do. Respond to another human being who invades your life for even a few moments. Respond instead of react.
Decide what you are supposed to do. Plan how you'll do it. Prepare. Then follow through.
That's what you're supposed to do with your fellow man, Little One. No matter who he or she is. No matter the circumstances of your meeting. Respond intentionally.
That's what loving people do.